Andalucia 2012 – The Mezquita –

Breakfast today is toast and pate that tasted like a spam product, peach juice and plain yogurt with a separate sugar packet, all served in individually pre-packaged servings. I share the dining space with sparrows who are scavenging crumbs from underneath the tables, and bathing in the fountain, two tables over.

Ready for my day, I walk across the street to the Mezquita. Admission is waived on Sunday mornings so locals can attend Mass.  Walking through the 800+ Islamic arches with Latin liturgy echoing in the background remains one of my most memorable experiences, which I share with you on YouTube.

The photo below is what I believe to be the original mosque, dating to 785. The architect is Ahd er-Rahman, who was the first independent Emir of Andalus. Of the original 1013 columns, 856 remain after the Reconquista and subsequent destruction of portions of this mosque, to convert sections of it to Christian chapels.

  •  The Mezquita was the largest mosque in the Western world, measuring almost 24,000 square meters. It was built in stages between 785 and 987 and would be considered the most important sanctuary of Western Islam.  The original mosque was divided into two parts: an open courtyard for ablutions, and a covered hall, with a capacity for over 10,000 worshipers. The archways, built of brick and limestone, are a Visigoth influence and add structural integrity to the building.

Walking from one end to the other is a tour through its history, as you can discern the ages of the various naves by the differences in the columns and the structure of the arches.

  • The nave of Al-Hakim II was the second extension of the mosque during the late 10th century.  It houses the private chapel for the Caliph, and the mihrab — the elevated pulpit where the imam delivered sermons. After the Reconquista in 1236, the Muslims were expelled and the Mezquita was consecrated as Santa Maria la Mayor. The door at right leads to one of the three oratories in the mihrab. The mosaics were a gift from Constantine VII, emperor of Constantinople, to the Caliph of Cordoba.

In 1371 King Henry II built the Royal Chapel, also known as the Chapel of Saint Ferdinand. Around the same time, permission was given to build a private chapel opposite the mihrab. The king issuing the permission did so with the warning of “be very careful for that is where the Moorish oratory is found…” 

  • During the 16th century, a large center portion of the mosque was destroyed to make room for a Christian Grand Chapel. Although the Council of Cordoba tried to stop this work, the bishop in charge petitioned King Charles I of Spain, and was granted a continuance. When Charles later visited the mosque, he said “Had I known what this was, I would not have allowed it… what you are doing is already done elsewhere, but you have undone what is unique in the world.”

The photo at far right shows the Grand Chapel, finished in 1766 and to this day an active cathedral. The altarpiece is red Cordoban marble, paintings by Cordoban artist Palomino. The chandelier was donated in 1629, measures nearly 2 meters across and weighs close to 150 kilos, crafted by Cordoban silversmith Sanchez de la Cruz. Compared to the original Mezquita, I found it ugly and out of place.

I admire the fretwork encased windows, many of which are 20th century additions to the original mosque, made from Canadian cedar and glass copying the design of windows from other parts of the mosque.

Before the Mezquita was a cathedral, it was a mosque. Before that, it was a Visigoth church. The floor is cut away and covered with glass, and exposes the mosaic beneath. It took me awhile to find this cutaway in the floor, and I had to lay down to get these shots.

At the other end of the building are glass cases housing Visigoth carvings, bibles, and what I believe is the gearbox for a clock or chime tower, as tall as me and about 8 feet long.  It’s a pretty impressive clockwork. I have included a small collection of items from the Treasury on Pinterest.

It was difficult for me to leave the Mezquita.  I leave its dark coolness and step out into a brilliant sun, filtering through palms onto a hard-packed yellow clay where most public places would have either pavement or grass.  Next stop– the Andalucia House.

  • My long-form journal, which includes additional historical notes and travel tips, is housed at

2 thoughts on “Andalucia 2012 – The Mezquita –

  1. It was even more breathtaking than I had imagined it would be. I agree with your comment on history. If only stones could speak …


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