Every place wants to be the "most important," "most popular," "most famous," "most beautiful." It can't all be true—but there's no doubt in my mind our visit today to the Great Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, also called the Mezquita, took us to one of the "most unusual."
A first glimpse, from the streets of the old city
In Andalucia, in southern Spain, where Islamic rulers controlled much of the area for centuries, starting in the 8th century and continuing into the 15th, almost every important building has a past as something else, or was built with the remains of something else. In this case, both apply.
When the first Moorish rulers of Cordoba decided to build a main mosque to show their power and serve their religion, they cleared the site by demolishing a Visigoth church dedicated to St. Vincent, and used remnants in their new building. Since the design of the new building included a large colonnaded hall, they also collected all the available Roman columns left lying around the area and re-used them. That included some that the Visigoths had already re-used themselves.
Over the centuries, later Moorish rulers expanded the mosque, with more column and more decoration. However, in the 13th century, the Moorish state of Cordoba was overcome by the Christian kings of Castile. They promptly took over the mosque, and rededicated it as a cathedral. Eventually, they decided they wanted a "really" Christian church...and built one in the middle of the mosque, fitting it between rows of pillars, and blending their new pillars into the existing ones.
Over the centuries, there has been much feeling that the cathedral should not have been built there, that it destroyed a unique treasure. And yet, in the course of all the changes that have taken place, is that a valid claim? In so many other places, the original was destroyed, or so changed as to lose its character. Here, most of the original is preserved, and the alteration seems skillful. No easy answer!
The entrance courtyard, filled with citrus trees. In Moorish times, palm trees grew here.
As to the columns: They are stunning, and the vistas they present are amazing. I've never been so stunned walking into a building as I was today. Even after walking around the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of columns, the wonder doesn't end. And while you might think that they would become boring, they do not. Not only because in detail they are so different (after all, the majority are used material, with different capitals) but because the views, the angles and the relationship to other decorations keep changing. Note especially below where the columns meet the white of the cathedral.
In any case: Here are the pictures...hope you enjoy!
MORE TravelGumbo blogs on Andalucia:
- Visiting the Alhambra
- Granada, Spain: A Walk Through the Historic Albaicin Neighborhood
- The Alcazar of Seville and the Puzzling Palace of Peter I
- The Alcazar of Jerez: A Window into History
- Six Tapas Bars in Seville, Spain
Repair and reconstruction are a constant process here
Some areas were gated off to form chapels for the cathedral
Through glass in the floor, remnants of Visigoth St. Vincent Church can be seen
A small museum within the Mezquita shows recovered decoration from St. Vincent and from various ages of both mosque and cathedral
and now, into the cathedral...
The exterior of the Mezquita also has extensive decoration, but repair is needed.