The Mezquita – Unlike Any Church We’ve Seen

While sites like the Sagrada Familia, the Alhambra, Santiago de Compostela, and the Guggenheim tend to dominate Spain’s tourism scene, attracting hordes of tour buses daily, our undisputed favorite was actually a bit of a surprise.
Found in Córdoba, a town of just over 300,000 people with a small town feel, the Mezquita is an ancient site of both Muslim and Catholic worship. Easily one of Andalucia’s most important historical sites, the surrounding city adds to the allure with narrow winding streets, preppy white and yellow painted houses, and an almost complete absence of cars in many of the neighborhoods. Criminally, few tourists visit this gem of a town, but those who do venture here are immersed in a city with an astounding amount of history.

The Mezquita has held importance as a site of worship since the 7th century and it’s influence as a Muslim Caliphate (government capital) helped Cordoba grow to one of the largest cities in the world. As a result, Cordoba holds the distinct honor of having been both a Roman provincial capital and a capital of the Arab state of Al-andalus. It’s importance in the Muslim world even rivaled Damascus during medieval times. Our visit quickly became a long term affair inside this amazing building, exploring its never ending rows of red and white Muslim arches and sitting in awe in the Cathedral’s pews where Baroque, Renaissance, and Gothic architecture intersect.

 Exterior with ornate Moorish doorways and Catholic belltower (via)
Roof line showing the elevated Cathedral  (via)
Muslim details over a doorway
Original orange grove in the courtyard

Worship on this site dates back to the Visigothic Church of St. Vincent in the 7th century, the remains of which are still visible via plexiglass floor sections inside the Mezquita. As well, many artifacts from the ongoing archaeological excavations are on display inside.

After the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the church was converted into a mosque beginning in 784 AD. Each subsequent ruler added his personal touch, enlarging the interior or adding a minaret, until it reached current size in 987 AD where it stood as one of the most important sites in the Islamic world until Cordoba was reconquered by King Ferdinand III in 1296.

Remains of the Visigoth Church under the current site (via)


Mihrab – all Muslims would face this while praying
Ornate ceiling over the Mihrab

Surprisingly, the conquering Christian Spaniards chose not to demolish the Mosque and rebuild, instead deciding to alter the building. This controversial decision resulted in a unique church unlike anything we’ve seen before, with a central Catholic chapel surrounded by an endless forest of red and white Mujedar arches. Adding to the uniqueness, the central chapel features a melding of different architectural styles as each King added and altered the church during his reign.

The recognizable red and white arches
Never ending rows of incredible arches
Mix of Muslim and Catholic elements
Chapel ceiling, hand painted
Beautiful organ
Catholic details

All of these actions have resulted in one of the most striking churches we’ve visited thus far; withing five minutes of wandering around we simultaneously whispered to each other, “this is the best building I’ve ever been in.” Seemingly shrouded in controversy that continues to this day with Spanish Muslims demanding the right to prey onsite, the Mezquita’s stunning architecture, religious importance, and compelling history make it a must see site.

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