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Why visit the Great Mosque of Cordoba?

Cordoba’s mosque-cathedral (locally known as the Mezquita) is one of the most impressive examples of Muslim architecture in the world. This is one of the reasons why the mosque, along with Cordoba’s historic center, were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The massive complex is about the size of 4 football fields. Its roof is held up by a series of double arches made up of its iconic alternating red and white bricks. Those arches are supported by 856 Roman columns shaped from precious stones such as jasper, onyx, marble, granite and porphyry. It’s a site that will take your breath away.

But it’s not just the beauty of the Mezquita that makes it remarkable. It’s the fact that the building tells the story of over 1500 years. What started off as a temple dedicated to the Roman god Janus, later became a Visigoth church in 572 AD. Today, you can still see mosaics from the Visigoths that were unearthed below the foundation of the Mezquita. And the Roman columns? Those were recycled by the Moors as they began work on the mosque.

After the Christians reconquered Spain, the mosque was deemed too beautiful to destroy. It was converted into a church and eventually, an enormous cathedral was built right in the middle! Being surrounded by Muslim architecture and peering into a church, all within the same building, is quite a peculiar experience. But that’s just what the mosque is – a peculiar but beautiful masterpiece that stands testament to 1500 years of human civilization.

What to See in the Great Mosque of Cordoba

The columns of the mosque support the famous alternating red and white brick arches which are said to be inspired by the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The arches are doubled, which at the time was a new building innovation, allowing for higher ceilings to be built. Seeing these endless columns, a visiting Muslim poet once described the mosque as having “countless pillars like rows of palm trees in the oases of Syria.”

Impressive row of arches in the interior of Cordoba's Mosque, Spain
Rows of arches inside Cordoba's Great Mosque


Patio of the orange trees seen from the bell tower – Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain
Patio of the orange trees – Mosque of Cordoba

Known as the Patio de los Naranjos, this open courtyard is attached to the mosque and surrounded by walls and the bell tower. The patio is where the Muslims would wash as part of their purification ritual before entering the mosque. In the courtyard, there are citrus trees and palms planted in rows mimicking the columns found inside the mosque. The trees were irrigated by channels that were fed by the water cistern. These channels can be seen today, however, they are not the originals.


Superb mahogany choir in Cordoba's mosque-cathedral, Spain
Superb choir in Cordoba's mosque-cathedral

The Mezquita’s main chapel (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption) is found right in the center of the complex. It features a baroque altarpiece, priceless jewels and a choir carved from mahogany brought from the New World. Next to the altarpiece is another noteworthy item – the statue of St. James the Moore Slayer.


Views of the Mosque's bell tower among palm trees – Cordoba, Spain
Views of the Mosque's bell tower

The bell tower was built in the 17th century over what was the mosque’s minaret. If you can climb the 54m (177 ft) to the top, you will be rewarded with some great views of the courtyard and mezquita below. The views of the city aren’t bad either and you can even see the Alcazar de Cordoba at a bit of a distance.


Impressive mihrab in the Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain
Dome of the mihrab in the Great Mosque

The Mihrab is a prayer niche found in mosques and the one found inside the Great Mosque of Cordoba could be the most beautiful in the world. The way it lights up and sparkles is truly impressive. It features verses from the Quran and plant motifs set in a mosaic. This tile work was done by craftsmen sent from Emperor Nicephorus II of the Byzantine Empire.

1/9  One of the many gates of the Mezquita
One of the many gates of the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain
2/9  Bell tower of the Great Mosque
Views of the bell tower among palm trees – Cordoba's Great Mosque, Spain
3/9  Cathedral inside of the Mezquita
Mahogany choir in Cordoba's mosque-cathedral, Spain
4/9  Beautiful detail of the Mosque's interior
Arches inside the Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain
5/9  Famous arches of the Mosque
Famous arches of Cordoba's Great Mosque – Spain
6/9  Mihrab in the Mezquita
Impressive Mihrab inside of Cordoba's Mezquita (Mosque), Spain
7/9  Dome of the Mihrab in the Mezquita
Dome of the Mihrab inside of Cordoba's Mezquita (Mosque), Spain
8/9  Views of the Mosque from the Bell Tower
Patio de los Naranjos (Mosque's courtyard) seen from the top of the bell tower – Cordoba, Spain
9/9  Patio of the orange trees
Patio de los Naranjos (Patio of the orange trees) – Cordoba, Spain
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