Short stories, Travel and Health Information
A thousand years ago, the Spanish city of Cordoba was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe.
During the period that Al-Andalus (the region now known as Iberia which included most of Spain, Portugal, and a small section of Southern France) was under Muslim rule this city was a rich centre of trade, education and culture.
“If you have the opportunity to see just one of Spain’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites” advised my Spanish friend Jorge when I told him of my plans to visit Spain, “make sure you visit the Mezquita of Cordoba. It is just a two hour train ride away from Madrid.”
This amazing building known as the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba (Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba) symbolises the history of this city and the many religious changes it has undergone since the first place of worship, a temple to the Roman god Janus, was constructed on this site around the first century.
The invading Visigoths converted this Roman temple into a church when they conquered Cordoba in 572. After Muslims from North Africa seized the city in the eighth century, the place of worship was divided into separate Muslim and Christian sections where adherents of both religions could worship under the same roof. In 784 the Ummayad ruler, Emir Abd Al-Rahman I purchased the Christian section, demolished the original structure and began construction of the Grand Mosque of Cordoba. His elaborate building programmes aimed to recreate in Al-Andalus the grandeur of Damascus, from where his family had originated.
Following later expansion and rebuilding, the Mezquita became one of the largest places of worship in the world.
After the city was conquered by the Catholic monarchs in 1236, Christian services began to be conducted in the mosque – but in the 16th century it was decided to construct a proper cathedral within the mosque without destroying the beautiful building. The resulting ‘church inside a mosque’ combines Baroque, Renaissance and Moorish styles – and is something encountered nowhere else in the world. It is visited by over one and a half million visitors each year.
I walked through the peaceful Patio de los Naranjos (The Courtyard of Orange Trees) whose orange trees are arranged in rows, their deep green leaves providing a vibrant splash of colour against the Mezquita walls – and then the Puerta de las Palmas (The Gate of the Palms) to enter the main building. The sight that greeted me was awesome – a forest of apparently endless red and white columns, superimposed on which are two tiers of horseshoe-shaped arches that give an impression of openness and height. The inner walls of the mosque are covered with rich decorations of mosaics, calligraphy and stucco sculptures. The intricately decorated Mihrab (prayer niche)and lavish Maqsura(caliph’s enclosure) are exquisitely embellished with sculpted marble and abstract mosaics.
Other sites worth visiting in Cordoba are the 14th century Jewish synagogue, one of the best preserved in Spain, whose walls are covered with Moorish decorations and Hebrew writing, the Casa de Sefarad(House of Memories) – just opposite the synagogue, this permanent exhibition recounts the story of Cordoba’s Sephardic Jews, the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos(Castle of the Christian Monarchs) situated a few blocks away from the mosque with its gardens and 14th century water terraces, and the picturesque plazas and narrow streets in the old Jewish Quarter. This has beautiful whitewashed houses embellished with wrought iron balconies and pots of brightly coloured flowers. The Al-Andalus Museum and Museum of Fine Arts also allow the visitor to experience the many facets of culture of this amazing city.