Across Andalucia: The Mezquita – The Director’s Cut

My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of my travels. To celebrate, I’m reissuing my journals as Director’s Cuts, with the complete text as well as larger and additional photos. 

My travels have taken me from Venice to Florence, Genoa, and Istanbul. In 2012 it brought me to Andalucia, in search of the remnants of medieval Spain when it was under Moorish rule, and the magnificent Mezquita in Cordoba.

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 then 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 have posted to August Phoenix Hats.

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.  It was inspired by the Mosque of Damascus and built from materials gleaned from the 6th century San Vicente Basilica.

The photo below is what I believe to be the original mosque, dating to 785. The architect, Ahd er-Rahman, was the first independent Emir of Andalus. The original mosque was divided into two parts: an open courtyard for ablution (the ritual washing prior to prayer) and this 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.

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.

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, the structure of the arches, and the styles of the oil lamps. The one shown below dates to the 10th century.

The nave of Al-Hakim II (shown below at left) was the second extension of the mosque during the late 10th century.  It housed the private chapel for the Caliph, and the mithrab, the elevated pulpit where the imam delivered sermons. One of the three doors leading to the mithrab is show at lower right.

 A large silver lamp once hung over this area, which held just over 1400 lamps containing perfumed oil. It was destroyed during the building of the Royal Chapel in the 14th century. Shown below are more details of the nave at left, and the ceiling above the mithrab at right.

After the Reconquista of Cordoba by Fernando III in 1236, the Muslims were expelled and the Mezquita was consecrated as Santa Maria la Mayor, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. 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 mithrab. The king issuing the permission did so with the warning to “be very careful, for that is where the Moorish oratory is found…” 

These are some shots of the Chapel of Saint Ferdinand. The center shot is gilded marble detail on a wall, the photo at right is a chest for which I was never able to determine the symbolism. Perhaps if I had been able to read the Latin inscription at its base, the mystery would have been solved

Further destruction occurred the following century during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, when a great center portion of the mosque was destroyed to make room for the Grand Chapel. Although the Council of Cordoba issued a public proclamation to stop this work, Bishop Don Alonso de Manrique (who was in charge of the construction) petitioned King Charles I of Spain to continue, and was granted that permission. When Charles later passed through Cordoba and visited the mosque, he said “Had I known what this was, I would not have allowed it to reach the ancient part, as what you are doing is already done elsewhere, but you have undone what is unique in the world.” 

The Grand Chapel was finished in 1766 and to this day an active cathedral. The altarpiece (shown at lower right 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.

Guards are posted around this area during Mass to prevent tourists from taking photos. You are free to wield your cameras once prayers have concluded.

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. A section of the floor of the Mezquita is cut away and covered with Lexan, and exposes the mosaic beneath. It took me a while to find this cutaway in the floor that Rick Steves mentioned in his guidebook, and I had to lay down at the edge of the Lexan 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.

2 thoughts on “Across Andalucia: The Mezquita – The Director’s Cut

  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 …


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s