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6 reasons to visit the Great Mosque of Cordoba

f you want to visit one of the most unique and beautiful places in the world, you have to come to Cordoba and gaze upon its impressive mosque with your own eyes. The Great Mosque of Cordoba, a symbol of the Umayyad dynasty in the city of Cordoba, has become an emblem of the city and one of Spain's main tourist attractions.

You won't see anything like this in the world: a mix of cultures and styles that blend together within one of the most important mosques of its times, later converted into a cathedral. A marvel of the city's past and present, it's the purest reflection of the splendour of Cordoba during the caliphate era of al-Andalus.

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You will discover the splendour of Cordoba under the Umayyads

The best way to learn about the history of Cordoba under the Umayyads is by visiting its greatest legacy. The Great Mosque of Cordoba represents all the magnificence of the caliphate period in al-Andalus.

The Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four caliphates established after the death of Mohammed. The Umayyads were a Meccan clan belonging to the Quraysh tribe, to which Mohammed belonged. The dynasty was established in the Iberian Peninsula through Abd al-Rahman, the only survivor of his dynasty, who arrived in Ceuta in the year 755 after the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus.

Thirty-one years after his arrival in al-Andalus, Abd al-Rahman, known as Abderraman I, later becoming the first Umayyad Emir of Cordoba, started the construction of the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Later, a succession of rulers would expand the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which would reach its greatest splendour during the following Caliphate.

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It was the emblem of Europe's most important city

During the Caliphate period, Cordoba was the most important city in Europe. Having defied the religious authorities of the rival dynasties and proclaiming himself caliph in the year 929, Abderraman III established the Caliphate of Cordoba. Thus, the relationship with the Caliphate of Baghdad was broken, making way for a new era of splendour.

The greatest scientists, philosophers, astronomers and mathematicians of the time made their way to Cordoba, taking al-Andalus to the height of its power. Amongst them were great personalities such as ibn Massarra, Ibn Tufail, Averroes and Maimonides.

In addition to expanding the Great Mosque of Cordoba and rebuilding its minaret, Abderraman II would go on to build some 70 libraries in Cordoba. He also founded a university and a school of medicine, as well as a school of translation dedicated to the translation of Greek and Hebrew to Arabic, thanks to which many works censored by Christianity have made their way to our hands.

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It was the second largest mosque in the world in terms of surface area

Following the various expansions carried out by the different emirs and caliphs of Cordoba, the Great Mosque of Cordoba became the second largest mosque in the world. With its 23,400 m2, the Great Mosque of Cordoba was only surpassed by the al-Masjid al-Ḥaram, the Great Mosque of Mecca. It would only be surpassed later by Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.

It was the caliph Al-Hakam II, successor to Abderraman III, who would carry out the most extensive and beautiful renovation of the Mosque, which he began immediately, on the second day of his reign. The chapel was expanded, lighting was improved and new arches were built, bestowing the mosque, in short, with its cohesive caliphate art style.

Thus, to delve into the depths of the Great Mosque of Cordoba's grandeur is to immerse yourself in a sea of 1,300 columns made of marble, granite and jasper that support a total of 365 two-tone horseshoe arches that lend the mosque its characteristic colour and style—a spectacular sight that speaks to the grandeur of the era.

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It is the legacy of the historical dispute between Arabs and Christians

It is said that al-Andalus was era in which three cultures—the Christian, Jewish and Arabic—co-existed. Nevertheless, during the entire al-Andalus period, there were constant power struggles between Arabs and Christians, culminating in the definitive expulsion of the Arabs from the Iberian Peninsula after the capture of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in the year 1492.

This territorial and ideological battle left its mark on buildings such as the Mosque. The Great Mosque of Cordoba was built on the grounds of what had been an early Christian church, the church of St. Vincent Martyr, which Abderraman I had bought from the Visigoths. Almost nothing remains of that early Christian church, as it was completely demolished. However, in the 1940s some remains were able to be salvaged from the substratum.

After the capture of Cordoba by the Christians in the year 1236, Ferdinand III of Castile converted the Mosque into a cathedral. Throughout the late Middle Ages it prevailed as a cathedral, undergoing continual renovations until the 16th century, at which time a huge Christian nave was built in the middle of the Mosque. This nave followed the architectural and artistic auspices of the Renaissance and resulted in the mix of styles that we can observe today.

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It is the only mosque-cathedral in the world

Although only the Christian religion is practised in it, the official title of the Great Mosque of Cordoba as Mosque-Cathedral makes it the only one with this distinction. The Mosque is a faithful reflection of the historical and cultural events that have taken place in the city of Cordoba through the centuries.

The integration of the cathedral, with its construction being carried out within the mosque in the 16th century by the Christians, lends the compound its unique and surprising combination. Thus, within the premises of the mosque you can contemplate elements from the most diverse architectural styles: Islamic, Gothic, Renaissance and baroque.

Such is its cultural and artistic value that the UNESCO has declared the Mosque and Cordoba's historic centre Places of Cultural Interest and World Heritage Sites.