Travel

Visiting the Great Mosque of Cordoba

Written by Zahid Malik

This year when I planned my visit to Spain, exploring the southern part of Spain, especially visiting Cordoba to see the Great Mosque of Cordoba, was on top of my agenda. I was traveling along with my friend Mubbashir Abbasi who has been visiting this southern Spain region for almost a decade now and had already visited the Great Mosque of Cordoba several times.

The idea was to be adventures this time and instead of traveling by train, we decided to make a road trip. We booked a small SUV (Lexus) through an online “rent a car” portal Do You Spain to make a road trip from Madrid to Seville with a stopover at Cordoba. This portal only manages the bookings, whereas, the actual company who gave the vehicle was recordgo.

Visiting the Great Mosque of Cordoba with friend

Arriving Cordoba

On 9th November 2021, we collected the car at around 1pm Hrs. We anticipated 4-hour drive to Cordoba and reach there by 5pm. However, it actually took longer than our expectations, as we needed some time to adjust with left hand drive. Our speed remained slower in first hour which delayed our scheduled arrival in Cordoba. When we reach near Cordoba exit on the A-4 highway, it was already getting dark. Therefore, we decided to go straight to Seville that day and, visit Cordoba the next day on our way back to Madrid.

Traveling to Cordoba from Madrid takes about 2 hours via fast train ride and approx. 4 hours by road. Due to significance in history, this city draws a large number of visitors from all over the world.

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History of Cordoba Mosque

The Great Mosque of Cordoba is known locally as Mezquita-Catedral. It is one of the oldest structures standing since 8th century. The Mosque of Cordoba was built by Abd al-Rahman in 784 who founded the Arab dynasty in Iberia. He ruled over the majority of Iberia (which included most of Spain, Portugal, and a tiny piece of Southern France).

Christians claim that the site of the mosque was originally a Christian church. They say, it was initially converted into a joint worship place for Christians & Muslims but later building was re-constructed to fully convert it into Mosque. However, scholars have questioned the historical accuracy of this story and Muslims have been categorically denying this claim.

Structure of Mosque

 

The Cordoba Mosque is indeed one of the most spectacular monuments of the world. It is also regarded as the most important monument of the Islamic world in the West. The structure of its building is recognized to be one of the most outstanding masterpieces of Moorish architecture. The Great Mosque is set in the narrow white-washed streets of the old quarter of Córdoba.

First Impression

Standing in the courtyard of the Great Mosque of Cordoba
View of the Great Mosque of Cordoba from the Courtyard.

We entered the building through the main gate, next to the minaret/tower, into the lovely courtyard of orange trees. Before going towards the main building, I made my way through the magical high ceiling corridors towards the left side. Beautifully hand carved wooden doors and roof structure of the original building are well preserved and hanged on the walls of these verandas. I was mesmerized by the great work of art demonstrated by the master wood craftsmen of that time.

When you enter the building, as you go around the massive hall, you’ll see four different stages of construction. Each one is distinct, reflecting the many tastes of the governing classes who commissioned it.

The structure’s splendor, as well as the impressions you’ll encounter when wandering the sacred halls, are indescribable.

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Materials used in the building

The materials used for building and decoration were precious and carefully selected. Everywhere I could see gold and ivory, silver and copper. One of the most charming parts of the mosque, the gilded arch of the Mihrab door, is probably one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life.

The Minaret / Bell Tower

Minaret of the Great Mosque of Cordoba
Standing in front of the Minaret / Bell Tower of the Mezquita-Catedral

A minaret is a tall tower attached or adjacent to a mosque whose primary function is giving Adhan (to call the faithful for prayers). In addition to that, Minarets help distinguish the mosque from the surroundings and serve the purpose of identity of the structure as a Muslim’s place of worship.

The landmark minaret of the Great Mosque of Cordoba has played a significant part in the image and profile of Cordoba. This is the first part of the structure that is seen from the far when you are entering the city. It is the city’s highest skyscraper, standing at 54 meters. As what happened to the mosque, the role of minaret has also been changed from the original Minaret of the Mosque to a Bell Tower of the Church. Over time, there has been slight changes in its form and style, yet it is equally regarded by both Muslims and Christians.

Columns of the Mosque

Beautiful view of the white striped arches of the Great Mosque of Cordoba

The 856 columns, which are finished with red and white striped arches, are the mosque’s most notable feature and symbol. Older arches were made of many colored stones. However current arches are simply painted in various colors. The stripes followed a design identical to the one found in Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. These columns are formed from the remnants of a Roman temple that had stood on the location.

Dome and the Mihrab

Mehrab and Dome of Cordoba mosque are one of the most beautiful parts of the building
Mihrab and Dome of Mosque of Cordoba. Source: Medieval Art Research

Above the Mihrab, there lies a beautiful dome. The mihrab of the Great Mosque of Cordoba is framed by an ornately sculpted arch. It is made up of crisscrossing ribs that form pointed arches in a sumptuous manner and are covered with a radial pattern of gold mosaic.

A complicated inlay of mosaics and gold with geometric and flowing designs, magnificent carvings of Quran verses coupled with floral embellishments, all reveal a different goal. This is the mosque’s most ornately ornamented portion, and it is mesmerizing.

The Architecture of Great Mosque

The Great Mosque of Cordoba contributes to being a prime example of the Muslim World’s capacity to brilliantly establish architectural styles based on pre-existing regional traditions. This is an unusual combination of new and traditional style vocabulary that is nonetheless recognized as Islamic in modern times.

Converting the Great Mosque into Church

View of church inside Mezquita-Catedral
Source Credit: 123rf.com/

Cordoba’s Muslim regime came to an end in 1236. The new emperor, Ferdinand III of Castile, became the new guardian of the Mosque building, which remained a prayer hall for four centuries. He quickly started converting the structure into a Catholic Church. Fortunately, the change in structure was not as drastic as it could have been. Luckily, many of the original components are still there today.

I was drawn to make a comparison between the two sides of the structure. Without a doubt, the Muslim part appealed to me more.

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Neighborhood

Cordoba’s old town is divided into various attractive neighborhoods, each with its unique atmosphere and pace of life. They also house some of southern Spain’s most well-known architectural landmarks, such as the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos and the Mosque–Cathedral, as well as one of the country’s most captivating annual ferias.

Streets around the Great Mosque are full of Gift stores, restaurants, ice-cream parlors and cafes. Walking around these narrow streets takes you into the past and captivates your imagination of living in ancient times.

Streets in the neighborhood of Mezquita-Catedral
Picture taken by Zahid Malik

San Basilio’s quaint ancient neighbourhood, commonly known as Alcazar Viejo, is one of Andalusia’s most charming parts of the city. This area is home to Cordoba’s flower-filled patios, beautiful courtyards, neatly whitewashed houses and narrow clean streets paved with centuries old stone pavers. Flowers filled patios and courtyards are open to the public every year in the month of May during the Feria de los Patios, which is one of Andalusia’s most fascinating festival to experience. Some of them remain open all year long, but even those that aren’t may be seen through iron gates, providing lush sanctuaries of cool and colour in the heart of some of the city’s oldest structures.

Just 15-minute walk from the Mosque, the busiest portion of Cordoba is San Andres-San Pablo. This is located in the heart of the city’s ancient town. It also houses one of Cordoba’s oldest surviving monuments, the roman temple, which was unearthed in the 1950s when renovating the town hall. This temple was built in the middle of the first century AD during Emperor Claudius’ reign. Later it was restored in the second century AD. San Andres is also one of the best places in Cordoba to get a feel for the city’s daily life. Despite its tourist appeal, this is a working neighborhood. Cordobese generally crowd here into the various cafes for a beer, coffee and a fast food at midday

Halal Food in Cordoba

Córdoba has a good number of Halal restaurants. Hammam Restaurante Teteria, El Patio Andaluz, El Sultán, KebabHut and Laorkebab (Actual name Lahore Kebab) are among popular choices.

Lahore Kebab restaurant in Cordoba is owned by a Pakistani immigrant. He is running this restaurant for about 8 years now. At one point, Lahore Kebab used to serve desi dishes for Pakistani & Indian visitors. But, after COVID the number of visitors have gone down, so now only Turkish menu is being served. Current dishes on the offer include but not limited to Donar Kebab, Durum wrap, Shwarma and Pizza etc.

It was good to find a Pakistani restaurant in Cordoba and watch Geo News on TV. Lahori Punjabi owner was speaking in native Punjabi and sharing his journey of reaching Spain. At that moment, I realized that finding your country-fellow abroad is much more valuable and satisfying. After enjoying Donar Kebab and having a good gup-shup with the owner for upto 30-40 minutes, we finally left the restaurant to drive back to Madrid.

 

Entry Tickets to Cordoba Mosque

Entry tickets can be purchased either online and/or on the box office located at the main entrance near the bell tower. General entry tickets to Mezquita cost EUR 11,00 per adult. The children under 10 years of age are free but until 14 years are charged on half price EUR 6. You will get your ticket at the box office until 30 minutes before closing time.

Free Admission is available on Monday – Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. These early hours visit can be made, incase you are traveling on budget or would like to save on expenses. Not to mention that this would be quietest time with minimum visitors around so the place can be explored in depth during this hour.

Cordoba Mosque Timing

Different time schedule is used in summer and winters. Following are season-wise opening hours of the Great Cordoba Mosque.

1st March – 31st October
Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Sun, holiday: 8.30 a.m. – 11.30 a.m. and 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.

1st November – 28th February
Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sun, holiday: 8.30 a.m. – 11.30 a.m. and 3 p.m. – 6 p.m

Note that Hours may vary so before visiting, please check while in town. There is usually two (2) hours break from 2:00pm to 4:00pm so one should arrive either before the break or around 4:00pm.

Basic rules and guidelines for the Mosque-Cathedral visit:

The Mezquita Mosque and Cathedral is a religious site. Therefore, visitors are asked to be respectful while visiting this sacred place. Please follow the staff directions.

Following are the basic rules and procedures for visiting the Mezquita:

  • Wear proper dress and take off your headgear (if you have one).
  • In case more than 10 people are visiting, Headphone-based guides should be used to avoid making noise inside the building. These headphones are available at the entrance.
  • Children must be accompanied by the adults at all times.
  • Please keep quiet during the church services; unnecessary chatting is not permitted.
  • Large goods such as luggage and other bulky objects are not authorized to be carried inside the building.
  • It is prohibited to run within the premises of the monument.
  • Inside the Mezquita – Mosque, visitors are not permitted to use tripods.
  • It is not permitted to photograph or video during a church service or other religious activity.
  • It is strictly forbidden to smoke inside the building.
  • Pets are not allowed inside the Mezquita, although service animals are tolerated.

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Zahid Malik

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