top of page

Mosque of Cordoba

Texts and photos: Guillermo Cachero

The Cordoba Mosque is a mixture of overlapping architectural styles, which have followed one another and coupled over the centuries, as there has been no generation that has given up leaving its mark. What we know today as a mosque was originally a basilica dedicated to Saint Vincent in the days of the Visigoths.


The declaration as Universal Heritage by UNESCO in 1984, only reflects that the mosque is a unique architectural work in the world. We could name several of great fame in the Islamic world; the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the Alabaster Mosque in Cairo, not to mention the fascinating Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. The one in Córdoba is unique for its forest of columns. According to Arab tradition, the house of a prophet must rest on palm tree trunks, and this was the mandate of Emir Abderramán I who ordered the use of Roman, Greek, Visigothic and Arab capitals to create this forest of columns. It is currently the largest in the Islamic world, and the largest religious temple in the world.


Nestled on a hill above the river ford at the end of the Roman bridge in a place considered sacred and a center of prayer for pre-Romans, Romans, Christians and Muslims; for more than three thousand years. It is currently the Cathedral of Córdoba and at the time of the caliphate it was the most important monument in the entire Islamic West and one of the most amazing in the world. Its history summarizes the complete evolution of the Umayyad style in Spain.



During the Muslim occupation it was for a time shared by Christians and Muslims, later it was fully acquired by Abd Al-Rahman I who destroyed the basilica to build the first mosque. Even today you can see some elements of what was the first Visigothic basilica in the first section of Abd Al-Rahman I.


As soon as we enter the interior of the Mosque we find a large room where the wonderful arches that we have seen so many times in photographs stand out. This is the oldest part of the Mosque, called the primitive part of Abd Al-Rahman I, its construction began in the year 786. It is the largest place and known as the Islamic part.

There is a great variety of columns that support the arches that belonged to the old church of San Vicente. The roof was raised through a double arch.


The second section of the Mosque, built by Abd al-Rahman II in 833, extended another nine naves and continued to use Roman and Visigothic columns and capitals, although capitals made by local craftsmen were also used.

In this part you can see the typical shape of the lower horseshoe-shaped double arches and the upper semicircular arches. The horseshoe arch is said to have been adopted from Visigothic architecture. The ceilings are restorations.

Two-tone columns and arcades


The interior space is arranged on a concert of two-tone columns and arcades with a great chromatic effect. There are five areas into which the enclosure is divided, each corresponding to the different extensions made.

The various extensions that were carried out by both the Muslim and Catholic sides make the mosque a place where the two styles, so different from each other, complement each other. From the Muslim extensions to those carried out by Spanish kings, as well as the reconstructions throughout its history.

Corner of the Royal Mudejar Chapel


Enrique de Trastámara (1334-1379), brother of Queen Isabella the Catholic, had this chapel built to house the crypt of his father Fernando IV and his grandfather Alfonso XI, the burial place until 1736, the date his remains were transferred to the Church of San Hipólito de Córdoba.

It is currently closed, but part of the extraordinary Mudejar stucco work on the walls and the dome can be seen from the outside. This great sample of Cordoban Mudejar is comparable to the one that appears 100 years later in the Alhambra and in other monuments in Granada. In the 17th century, an image of San Fernando was placed on the altar.

Chapels and Primitive Ships


Primitive ships of Abd al-Rahman I

The Villaviciosa chapel seen from the Mihrab of Al.Hakam II, where the width of the space can be seen between the columns with horseshoe arches. Many of the columns come from the Roman theater in Mérida.


San Clemente Museum- Inaugurated on March 18, 1996


Inside the mosque is the museum of San Clemente. Between the years 1931 and 36 an archaeological excavation was carried out where  remains of the first basilica called San Vicente destroyed by Abd Al-Rahman I were found.

During the excavations, remains of the old episcopal seat were found, a rectangular room that communicated with the central nave. A pool that looked like a water tank from the Paleo-Christian era and it seems that it was used as a baptismal pool.

There are numerous remains extracted from the excavation and they are all found in this museum, highlighting a paleo-Christian sarcophagus that supported one of the columns of the primitive mosque, it is believed that the materials were used for the construction of the new one. And luckily we can see some of the unused as a small semicircular niche.


revista cordoba mezquita 33.jpg

The Cathedral in the very heart of the building occupies part of the extensions carried out by Abd al-Rahman II and Almanzor. For some it is an authentic architectural aberration to contemplate two such different styles and for others it complements the Islamic beauty.

It is a rectangular plant with three naves and a transept that highlights the horizontal shape of the Muslim part due to its great verticality and the conservation of the Muslim part should be highlighted.  by adding the Catholic in a fusion of two such opposite styles. All this is thanks to the architect Hernán Ruiz I the Elder, and above all to the subsequent rulers who have continued the same style respecting without destroying the Islamic part, something that in my opinion would have been a true architectural crime. You can agree or not with this symbiotic architecture, but the most important thing is that the Islamic part was not destroyed.

Main Chapel


In the fifteenth century, the Catholic Monarchs allowed the construction of a "Capilla Mayor". A decision that created a great discrepancy and opposition from the Municipal Council of Cordoba, and the strong ecclesiastical pressure managed to submit it by supreme mandate of Carlos V, in 1523. Although later he lamented, as JB Alderete collected, with the famous phrase "You have destroyed what was unique in the world, and put in its place what can be seen everywhere." 

The Main Chapel has a Latin cross plan. With gothic arches. In the center of the transept we can see a grandiose silver lamp, the work of the Cordovan silversmith Martín Sánchez de la Cruz.

The main altarpiece of the cathedral is made of marble and presided over by a large monstrance. On the sides there are two stained glass windows of great beauty. The paintings are a total of five, which occupy the lateral parts and attics; They represent five Cordovan martyrs, two from the Roman era, Saint Acisclo and Saint Victoria, who are the patron saints of the city of Córdoba. And two from the Muslim period, San Pelagio and Santa Flora. The canvas that crowns the set represents the Assumption of the Virgin.


Cathedral vault

calles y juderia-5203.jpg

The dome that covers the transept in its pendentives represents the four evangelists surrounded by angels and winged putti. At the base of the vault and alternating with the light spaces, there are the sculptures of the eight Fathers of the Church: "San Ambrosio", "San Jerónimo", "San Agustín", "San Gregorio", "San Basilio el Grande”, “San Gregorio de Nacianzo”, “San Juan Crisóstomo” and “San Atanasio”, all of them carved by the sculptor Francisco Gutiérrez Garrido. Crown the set "The Holy Trinity".

The chorus

revista cordoba OD 63.jpg

Just opposite the main chapel is the choir. It is one of the most beautiful and best executed choirs in all of Spain. Its stalls are a formidable expression of baroque art, carved in mahogany and made in the 17th century by Duque Cornejo. In the background, almost unnoticed, is the end of the Italian Renaissance-style nave.


The lectern in the center has extraordinary merit, crowned by a pavilion that has an ivory image of the Blessed Virgin, an original by Alonso Cano. The pillars of the central nave, where the choir is located, are decorated with pairs of Apostles, with a strong Gothic imprint. Above are decorated with the shields of the canons who collaborated in financing the works. The center of the choir is occupied by the episcopal chair, raised on steps closed with bronze railings. The choir is separated from the chancel and the transept by a gilt bronze grille made in 1759.


If something stands out in the choir, it is its stalls, it was made around 1750 by the Sevillian artist Pedro Duque Cornejo and a team of craftsmen. The project was huge, employing up to 46 workers at a time and costing 913,889 reais and 6 maravedis. It is a masterpiece of Spanish baroque assembled without using any nails.

The sculptor, in return for an annual salary of 300 ducats, agreed to carve two medallions for each chair. A large one representing a scene from the life of Jesus or the Virgin and a small one, representing a passage from the Bible.


An image of San Rafael, patron saint of Córdoba, completes the imagery.


The vault that covers the choir is in the Italian Renaissance style surrounded by cherubs and its neoclassical windows give it a totally different look from the Gothic cathedrals of Europe. This vault was completed in 1598. Before it was built, the place was completely closed without light penetrating and with its construction circular windows were made in the back of the choir, giving it back the light that had been removed in another of the reconstructions.

The vault reflects reliefs of the Assumption of Mary in the center and those of San Acisclo and Santa Victoria, on the sides. In the spandrels, there are the statues of Daniel, David, Solomon, Samuel and in the half spandrels of the corners, the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity and Fortitude.


Near the main arch are the organs, made in the 17th century and restored at the beginning of the 19th century by Patricio Furriel. The one on the right has a background decorated with an image of Santa Cecilia, a nineteenth-century work by Diego Monroy y Aguilar, on top of which is an allegorical sculpture.


Mihrab of Al-Hakam II


The Mihrab is located on the Qibla wall, which is normally oriented towards Mecca. It is like the "Sancto Sanctorum" of the Mosque, they are normally oriented towards the East, except in this mosque that it is towards the South or Southeast. It is believed that it was due to the expansion carried out by Almanzor that left it outside the central axis of the building.

A large gate protects it from visitors and only through the gate can you appreciate the great architectural beauty of this Mihrab built by Al-Hakam II, to whom the Eastern Roman Emperor Nicephorus II sent, a delicate multi-colored glass mosaic , some, covered with gold leaf to decorate it.

Around him are written in golden letters praises to the greatness of Allah, where you can read in Arabic:

“Allah. He is the knower of hidden and manifest things. He is the mighty, He is full of mercy, He is alive. There is no other God but Him. Invoke Him by offering them pure worship. Praise be to Allah; Lord of the Universe. Blessed be Imam Al-Mostansir Bil-lah, favored by God, servant of Allah, Alhaquem, Prince of the Believers. May Allah prosper him, for the work of this holy temple, which exceeds all other memorable construction in spaciousness for comfort”.


A mosque is the place to kneel or prostrate, that is the attitude that a Muslim has of submission to his God Allah. And that is the meaning of Islam "submission to God."

And every mosque is made up of the oratory (haram), the space where the faithful gather for prayer. The uncovered courtyard (sahn), which usually has a pool or fountains, is usually located in the center of the courtyard where the faithful usually perform the obligatory ablutions. In addition to the Minaret or minaret, the square or circular tower where the muezzin makes the call to prayer.

The Mihrab is located in the center of the Qibla, the wall that is oriented towards Mecca and is where the richest and most colorful decoration is concentrated. If in the Catholic religion the altar is the center of the sacred space. The Mihrab does not constitute the sacred space, but it is the direction where the prayer should be directed, which is the true sacred essence in the Islamic religion.


If the Mihrab is a true jewel, the octagonal dome that rises above it is of great beauty surrounded by arches decorated with Byzantine-style mosaics with Arabic inscriptions. It was built by Al-Hakam II, this is one of the jewels of the Umayyad dynasty.


   Entrance of the Caliph

This gate served as a protected entrance to the Great Mosque for Caliph Al-Hakam II, who led from the Umayyad Alcázar (where the Bishopric is today) through an elevated passage. To the left is the Mihrab.

revista cordoba OD 14_edited.jpg

1200 years ago, all the latticed arches were open to the “sahn”, what we know today as the Patio de los Naranjos. When the Mosque became a cathedral they were closed. It was in 1970 that many of the partitions were replaced with these decorative lattices that gave light to its interior. And they were also decorated with caliphal lamps in 1990.


Holy Spirit Gate: Built in the extension carried out by Al-Hakan II.

Outside the Mosque we can contemplate the numerous doors that the temple has, such as: the Puerta del Perdón, Postigo de la Leche, Puerta de los Deanes, Puerta de San Esteban, Santa Catalina; the altarpiece of the Virgen de los Faroles and the Caño Gordo fountain.

Have you already bought or subscribed to our digital magazine? Now you can read it on any device, download it and save it in your digital library.  Subscription of 6 issues per year for only €9.88. 

Otros Destinos 50 Rajasthán portada .jpg
Otros Destinos 51 Amazonas.jpg
Ruta del Cister
Otros Destinos  Areas Naturales .jpg
Otros Destinos Portugal portada.jpg
Otros Destinos Menorca portada.jpg
Ruta 40 Patagonia portada.jpg
Otros Destinos Camino de Santiago portugués portada.jpg
bottom of page