MOSQUE OF CORDOBA History

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Unlike any other building in Spain, the Mosque tells the history of the Iberian peninsula, starting with the Romans. It is said that the location was first the site of a temple dedicated to the Roman god, Janus. When the Visigoths arrived from the north in 572 AD, they converted the temple into a church, the remnants of which can still be seen inside the mosque today.

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

The Muslims (Moors) invaded from northern Africa in 711 and made a unique agreement with the Visigoths to share the building for worship – one half for the christians and the other half for the Muslims. This agreement lasted until 784 when the Muslim Emir Abd al-Rahman I purchased the church and demolished it to make room for the grand mosque of Cordoba.

Visigoth mosaics found under the Mosque's foundations – Cordoba, Spain
Visigoth mosaics found under the Mosque's foundations

Over four centuries, the mosque was continually extended as Cordoba prospered. The city enjoyed public baths, running water, and even paved streets that were light up at night with oil lamps. In addition, Cordoba was open to artistic expression and was home to numerous scholars and philosophers, such as Maimonides and Averroes. Many consider Cordoba to be medieval Europe’s cultural capital.

Views of the mosque-cathedral and its patio from the bell tower – Cordoba, Spain
Views of the mosque-cathedral and its patio from the bell tower

Cordoba’s golden period ended once King Ferdinand III of Castile arrived during the reconquista in 1236. The conquering christian forces were impressed with Cordoba and especially the mosque. Instead of destroying it, they decided to convert it into a Roman Catholic church.

Cathedral entrance inside the Mosque of Cordoba, Spain
Cathedral entrance

Several chapels were built into the corners of the mosque over the centuries and eventually in the 16th century Charles V, King of Castile and Aragon, granted permission to build a Renaissance cathedral. This wall-less cathedral looks as though it was just plopped into the middle of the mosque – a truly strange sight to behold. Charles V only visited the cathedral after it was completed and was not too pleased. He famously stated “You have destroyed something unique to build something commonplace.”

Today, Cordoba’s mosque-cathedral is a beautiful masterpiece that stands testament to 1500 years of Spanish history.

For more information and photos, please check out our complete guide of the Great Mosque.

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