I have seen a great deal of Islamic architecture during my travels in North Africa, Egypt, India and the United Arab Emirates, but I was totally unprepared for the beauty of this mosque, built on the foundation of a Visigothic church that had been partitioned between Muslims and Christians. I had been looking forward to seeing the famous Alhambra in Granada, but somehow, no one had ever drawn my attention to this stunning structure here in Cordoba.
When I first read about it, I learned that over 400 hundred of its 1293 columns had been removed from the centre of the mosque in order to construct a huge Christian cathedral in their place. I was appalled that this was allowed to happen, though religious groups have desecrated each other’s places of worship throughout history and continue to do so today. In light of what was done, it makes me realize that we are fortunate that the entire 23,000 sq metre mosque was not demolished completely, and that the remaining 14,000 sq metre prayer hall with over eight hundred columns still stands for us to enjoy and cherish.
While we were touring the mosque cum cathedral, I overheard an English-speaking tour guide describe the events that led to the building of the cathedral. Apparently, a young king had recently been enthroned and he was pressured to allow the construction of the church within the mosque. He was new to his responsibilities and with many other matters weighing on him, he followed the advice of his courtiers and granted permission. He had never even been to Cordoba, had never seen the mosque in all its glory.
Years later, when he was finally able to visit the city, it is said that he wept at the sight of the damage that had been done to this treasure. I have to say, I completely agree with his assessment. While the cathedral is a stunning building on its own, the construction of dozens of small chapels around the perimeter of the mosque meant the permanent closure of nineteen of the doors in the exterior walls. These doors, when opened in the past, would have flooded the interior spaces with light and made the Mezquita even more beautiful.
I hope you can get a small sense of the beauty of the red and white-striped arches in the mosque. I have never seen any so vibrantly decorated and it was hard to resist photographing each and every one of the columns that are still standing. I’m beginning to learn that the less I know about a place before I visit it, the more I am delighted at the beauty and history before me. I hope that you might one day be able to visit the Mezquita yourself and I apologize in advance if my photos take away some of the surprise and awe I have experienced here. If you have visited Cordoba yourself, I trust this will be a reminder of an enchanting place, one that certainly warrants visiting again.