In the 8th century, Córdoba was the capital of Islamic Spain and western Europe’s largest and most diverse city. A melting pot of cultures, it was a time when Jews, Christians and Muslims lived side by side. Córdoba was at the heart of a cultural thoroughfare, something that was to shape the landscape of its city as well as the surrounding areas. The most iconic symbol of this time period is the Mezquita de Córdoba.
Mezquita de Córdoba translates into “The Great Mosque of Córdoba”. If there is any reason to visit Córdoba, it is for the sole purpose of seeing the artistic brilliance of the Mezquita de Córdoba with your own eyes. The best way to describe this architectural wonder of the Islamic world is to remember the words of Adolf Loos:
“The architecture arouses sentiments in man. The architect’s task therefore, is to make those sentiments more precise.”
No building has evoked so strong an emotion in me as the Mezquita de Córdoba. I would not regard myself as a sentimental individual, but I just could not help tearing up. There is something simply remarkable and moving about the piety with which such a structure was built. It is as if the viewer is magically transported into a bygone era, a time when these grounds would have been filled with people; traders, courtiers, soldiers, royal servants, and worshippers.
Today, the Mezquita de Córdoba is officially the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. But millions come to Córdoba to admire its art and architecture, the majority of which is the work of Islamic architects who built it as a mosque.
As I walk along the walls of the Mezquita de Córdoba, I cannot help but marvel at the external facade. Even after staring my eyes out, the amazement never ceases to end. Were these mortal men who carved such elaborate, intricate designs? Or were they heavenly artisans brought down to earth?
The most impressive entrance into the Mezquita de Córdoba is the 14th century Mudejar archway, the Puerta del Perdon. Walking through this archway feels like I am entering a portal, a gateway of some sorts into another world.
The Mezquita de Córdoba’s ticket office lies inside, past the Puerta del Perdon. But you can be like me and come in the morning to visit. The Mezquita de Córdoba is free to visit between 8:30am and 9:30am. Arrive 8:30 am on the dot. Not only is the line long, but you will need all the time you can get to admire the majestic interior premises.
The Puerta del Perdon lies next to the bell tower, Torre Campanario. Also known as a minaret, the Mezquita de Córdoba’s minaret influenced the architecture of all minarets built throughout the western Islamic world. I didn’t go up the 54 meter high bell tower, but for €2 you can climb it for panoramic views of Córdoba and the Mezquita de Córdoba.
Note: Only 20 people are allowed every half hour, and the tickets sell out well in advance.
At ground level, once you cross the Puerta del Perdon, you will enter the Patio de los Naranjos. Also known as The Patio of Oranges, this was where ablutions were performed when the faithful were called for prayers at the Mezquita de Córdoba. Known in Arabic as “Wudu”, ablutions are a type of purifying ritual where worshippers wash their hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head and feet with water.
Upon entering the prayer hall, you will immediately understand what the Mezquita de Córdoba is truly famous for and why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was surrounded by a sea of columns, pillars topped with the classic Islamic red and white striped arches giving the illusion of a forest of date palms. Originally 1293 in number, only 856 of these columns remain today.
The floor “argamasa” is made of compacted reddish slaked lime and sand. The roof above is illuminated with gold and multicolored motifs. The entire place seems alight with the light of spiritual bliss, a peace that filters into the soul of visitors even today.
Note: There are bathrooms available for visitors in the Mezquita de Córdoba’s prayer hall.
The Mezquita de Córdoba was designed as a horizontal, open and airy space. It had up to 19 doors along its north side to that effect. Given the number of worshippers who may have prayed side by side, I would imagine such a construction would have prevented the atmosphere from becoming too stifling. But later Christian additions, such as the many chapels and solid center, restricted and enclosed this space.
If you walk toward the southern end of the Mezquita de Córdoba, you will find the mihrab or prayer niche. The area in front of the mihrab and to each of its sides constitute the maksura. The maksura is where the caliphs and courtiers prayed. The mihrab and maksura are the most ornate and opulent parts of the Mezquita de Córdoba. Gold brought from Byzantium transforms the mihrab into a glittering refuge, a magical portal into the heavenly sky. As you look above, you get a sense of how the artisans wanted to depict God’s kingdom: infinite, glorious, dazzling and awe-inspiring.
The Mezquita de Córdoba struck an emotional chord in me. I was completely mesmerized by the complete splendour of the place. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to walk the same halls, the same grounds as the caliphs and worshippers of the 8th century. I am so grateful to Spain for preserving such a treasure of immeasurable value, so that millions of visitors like me can admire it. The Mezquita de Córdoba really, truly stirs the soul of the art lover.