Mezquita

The Cathedral and former Great Mosque of Córdoba, in ecclesiastical terms the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (English: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption), and known by the inhabitants of Córdoba as the Mezquita-Catedral (English: Mosque–Cathedral), is today a World Heritage Site and the cathedral of the Diocese of Córdoba. The site was originally a pagan temple, then a Visigothic Christian church, before the Umayyad Moors at first converted the building into a mosque and then built a new mosque on the site.

It is located in the Andalusian city of Córdoba, Spain. The Mezquita is regarded as perhaps the most accomplished monument of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba. After the Spanish Reconquista, it once again became a Roman Catholic church, with a plateresque cathedral later inserted into the centre of the large Moorish building.

Since the early 2000s, Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Roman Catholic church to allow them to pray in the cathedral. The Muslim campaign has been rejected on multiple occasions, by both Spanish Catholic authorities, and the Vatican. In 2010 there was a violent incident over the matter.

Origins

The building was begun around the year 600 as the Christian Visigothic church of St. Vincent.

After the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic kingdom, the church was divided between the Muslims and Christians. When the exiled Umayyad prince Abd ar-Rahman I escaped to Spain and defeated the Andalusian governor Yusuf al-Fihri, he allowed the Christians to rebuild their ruined churches, and purchased the Christian half of the church of St. Vincent. Abd ar-Rahman I and his descendants reworked it over two centuries to refashion it as a mosque, starting in 784. Additionally, Abd ar-Rahman I used the mosque (originally called Aljama Mosque) as an adjunct to his palace and named it to honor his wife. Traditionally, the mihrab of a mosque faces in the direction of Mecca; by facing the mihrab, worshipers pray towards Mecca. Mecca is east-southeast of the mosque, but the mihrab points south.

The mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd ar-Rahman III ordered a new minaret, while Al-Hakam II, in 961, enlarged the building and enriched the mihrab. The last of the reforms was carried out by Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir in 987. It was connected to the Caliph's palace by a raised walk-way, mosques within the palaces being the tradition for the Islamic rulers of all times. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and courtyard.

Design

The Great Mosque of Córdoba held a place of importance amongst the Islamic community of al-Andalus for three centuries. In Córdoba, the capital, the Great Mosque was seen as the heart and central focus. To the people of al-Andalus “the beauty of the mosque was so dazzling that it defied any description.”

The main hall of the mosque was used for a variety of purposes. It served as a central hall for teaching and to manage law and order within al-Andalus during the rule of Abd ar-Rahman.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba exhibited features, and an architectural appearance, similar to the Great Mosque of Damascus, therefore it is evident that it was used as a model by Abd ar-Rahman for the creation of the Great Mosque in Córdoba.

Features

The building is most notable for its giant arches, with 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple which had occupied the site previously, as well as other destroyed Roman buildings, such as the Mérida amphitheatre. The double arches, pictured above, were a new introduction to architecture, and helped support the tremendous weight of the higher ceilings. The double arches consist of a lower horseshoe arch and an upper semi-circular arch. The famous alternating red and white voussoirs of the arches were inspired by those in the Dome of the Rock.

They resemble those of the Aachen Cathedral, which were built almost at the same time. The mosque also features richly gilded prayer niches. A centrally located honey-combed dome has blue tiles decorated with stars. The mihrab is a masterpiece of architectural art, with geometric and flowing designs of plants. Other prominent features were: an open court (sahn) surrounded by arcades, screens of wood, minarets, colourful mosaics, and windows of coloured glass. The walls of the mosque had Quranic inscriptions written on them.

Layout

The mosque’s floor plan is seen to be parallel to some of the earliest mosques built from the very beginning of Islam. It had a rectangular prayer hall with aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla, the direction towards which Muslims pray. The prayer hall was large in size, flat, with timber ceilings held up by arches of horseshoe-like appearance.

One hundred fifty years following its creation, a staircase to the roof was added, along with a southward extension of the mosque itself. A bridge was built linking the prayer hall with the Caliph’s palace. The mosque was later expanded even further south, as was the courtyard which surrounded it. The mosque was built in four stages, with each Caliph and his elite contributing to it.

Until the eleventh century, the courtyard was unpaved earth with citrus and palm trees irrigated - at first by rainwater cisterns, and later by aqueduct. Excavation indicates the trees were planted in a pattern, with surface irrigation channels. The stone channels visible today are not original.

Reconquista

In 1236, Córdoba was captured by King Ferdinand III of Castile in the Reconquista, and the mosque was turned back into a Christian church. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features, such as King Henry II rebuilding the chapel in the 14th century. The minaret of the mosque was also converted to the bell tower of the cathedral. It was adorned with Santiago de Compostela’s captured cathedral bells.

The most significant alteration was the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave right in the middle of the expansive structure. The insertion was constructed by permission of Charles V, king of Castile and Aragon.

The Great Mosque's conversion to a Christian church, the Catedral de Córdoba, may have helped to preserve it when the Spanish Inquisition was most active. Artisans and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century.

In popular culture

Muhammad Iqbal who is considered as one of the founding fathers of Pakistan and is a national poet of Pakistan, visited Córdoba and saw the Mosque during his European trip of 1931-32. He requested the authorities to offer Azan at the mosque. Iqbal was greatly moved by the magnificence and solemnity of the Mosque and the deep emotional responses its awe-inspiring sight evoked in him found expression in the immortal poem called The Mosque of Cordoba. Iqbal saw it as a cultural landmark of Islam and in its architecture and engravings he saw a moving portrait of the Believer's moral excellence and aesthetic refinement as well his high-mindedness, sincerity, piety and devotion.

Current Muslim campaign

Muslims across Spain are lobbying the Roman Catholic church to allow them to pray in the complex, with the Islamic Council of Spain lodging a formal request with the Vatican. However, Spanish church authorities and the Vatican oppose this move.

In April 2010, two Muslim tourists were arrested at the Cathedral, after an incident in which two security guards were seriously injured. The incident occurred when the building was filled with tourists visiting the cathedral during Holy Week.

According to cathedral authorities, when half a dozen Austrian Muslims, who were part of a group of 118 people on an organised tour for young European Muslims, knelt to pray at the same time, security guards stepped in and “invited them to continue with their tour or leave the building”. When two men refused to comply, a scuffle broke out and police were called. Two security guards were seriously injured, and the two Muslim men were detained. Spanish media, citing police sources, said that one of the men arrested had been carrying a knife.