Islamic Art

Great Mosque of Cordoba

The Mezquita also called the Great Mosque of Cordoba is medieval Islamic mosque that was converted into a Catholic Christian Cathedral in the Spanish city of Cordoba. The mosque is considered one of the most accomplished structures of Islamic and Moorish architectures. Muslims in Spain have been lobbying, for over a decade, to be given the right to pray inside the mosque, but the Spanish Catholic authorities and the Vatican remain opposed to this.

After the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom, the church was divided between the Muslims and Christians. When the exiled Umayyad prince Abd al-Rahman I escaped to Spain and defeated the governor of Al-Andalus, Yusuf al-Fihri, he allowed the Christians to rebuild their ruined churches, and purchased the Christian half of the church of St. Vincent. Abd al-Rahman I and his descendants reworked it over two centuries to fashion it as a mosque, starting in 784. Additionally, Abd al-Rahman I used the mosque (originally called Aljama Mosque) as an adjunct to his palace and named it to honour his wife.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba held a place of importance amongst the Islamic community of al-Andalus for three centuries. In Córdoba, the capital, the Mosque was seen as the heart and central focus of the city.The main hall of the mosque was used for a variety of purposes. It served as a central Prayer hall for personal devotion, the five daily Muslim prayers and the special Friday prayers. It also would have served as a hall for teaching and for Sharia Law cases during the rule ofAbd al-Rahman & his successors.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba exhibited features, and an architectural appearance, similar to the Great Mosque of Damascus, therefore, it is evident that it was used as a model by Abd al-Rahman for the creation of the Great Mosque in Córdoba.


The building is most notable for its arcaded hypostyle hall, with 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple which had occupied the site previously, as well as other destroyed Roman buildings, such as the Mérida amphitheatre. The double arches were a new introduction to architecture, permitting higher ceilings than would otherwise be possible with relatively low columns. The double arches consist of a lower horseshoe arch and an upper semi-circular arch. The famous alternating red and white voussoirs of the arches were inspired by those in the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem.A centrally located honey-combed dome has blue tiles decorated with stars and parallels are often drawn between this and the popular Blue Mosque in Istanbul.


The mosque also has a richly gilded prayer niche or mihrab. The mihrab is a masterpiece of architectural art, with geometric and flowing designs of plants. Other prominent features were: an open court surrounded by arcades, screens of wood, minarets, colourful mosaics, and windows of coloured glass.All decoration of the mosque is accomplished through tile work, calligraphy and architectural forms.


The mosque’s floor plan is seen to be parallel to some of the earliest mosques built from the very beginning of Islam. It had a rectangular prayer hall with aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla, the direction towards which Muslims pray.The prayer hall was large in size, flat, with timber ceilings held up by arches of horseshoe-like appearance.


Until the 11th century, the courtyard was unpaved earth with citrus and palm trees irrigated - at first by rainwater cisterns, and later by aqueduct. Excavation indicates the trees were planted in a pattern, with surface irrigation channels. The stone channels visible today are not original.


In 1236, Córdoba was conquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile in the 'Reconquista', and the mosque was converted into a Catholic church in its centre. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features, such as King Henry II rebuilding the chapel in the 14th century. The minaret of the mosque was also converted to the bell tower of the cathedral. It was adorned with Santiago de Compostela’s captured cathedral bells.


The mosque's reconversion to a Catholic church may have helped to preserve it when the Spanish Inquisition was most active. Artisans and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century.


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