Europe is full of magnificent churches, cathedrals, and other religious structures. But few are as unusual as the famed Mezquita of Cordoba in the region of Andalucia.
Begun at the end of the 8th century while Spain was under Moorish rule, it continued to evolve long after the Reconquest in 1236 AD. The result is a fascinating mixture of medieval mosque, Gothic church and an early 16th-century cathedral.
The Islamic influence is clear throughout the Mezquita (Spanish for ‘mosque’). The most obvious are the hundreds of pillars made of granite, onyx, and marble. Refashioned from parts of a Roman temple and other buildings that occupied the site centuries earlier, they support traditional-looking red and white striped high arches that draw the eyes up to the magnificent ceiling. Though traditional in style, the effect is tremendous, especially since there are two rows, the upper level supported by the lower.
Another prominent Moorish feature is the late-10th-century mihrab, a domed shrine that is covered with Byzantine mosaics. This section of the Mezquita alone would make the structure famed throughout the art world. The honeycomb design is covered with blue tiles that clearly mark the Moorish influence. Covered with their easily-recognized floral and geometric designs, it is considered one of the finest examples of Islamic art in the world.
After the Reconquest by King Ferdinand, changes were in store for this amazing site. During the 13th century, Alfonso X began construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel. Another was added by Enrique II in the 14th century, a stellar example of the Mudejar style. The nave was later built under the watchful eye of Carlos V, Holy Roman Emperor of the mid-16th century.
It was also during this period that the early-Baroque cathedral inside was begun. Many mosques were simply torn down or converted over the centuries before the final conquest of the Moors in 1492. In the case of the Mezquita, the structure was modified instead, mostly in the interior. The cathedral, complete with choir stalls, is one of the most prominent examples of that.
Another is the Torre del Alminar, a minaret once used to call the Muslims to prayer, later surrounded with a Baroque belfry, one of the few changes to the outside of the building. Visitors can climb to the top and obtain one of the best views of Cordoba through its arched openings.
Unlike many European-style cathedrals, the mosque was designed as a more open structure. As a result, the interior is not the only outstanding area that will delight visitors. The exterior offers the Patio de Los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Orange Trees). In spring, with the orange trees in bloom, delicate scents add to the enjoyment of the beautiful sights. From here, visitors then could make out many of the nineteen separate naves inside.