The Mosque of Cordoba

by Rabah Saoud Published on: 13th January 2002

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One cannot visit Cordoba (in Spain) today without a trip to its main tourist attraction, The Great Mosque of Cordoba. A symbol and reminder to the world of the golden civilisation that Muslims built in Europe over one thousand years ago.


Summarised extracts from a full article:
A review on Architecture in Muslim Spain and North Africa (756-1500AD) by Rabah Saoud

As customary with Muslim Caliphs, the first important building they erected was the Mosque.

In Andalusia (Muslim Spain), the Mosque of Cordoba was first founded by Abd-ar-Rahman I in 787. Its construction continued for a number of years as each succeeding Caliph added his contribution to the mosque in the form of restoration and extension, yet the building still preserved its unity and harmony as if it was built by one single person.

In terms of architectural and ornamental innovation, the Cordoba mosque introduced several features and techniques that became part of late Muslim architecture particularly in North Africa.

The mosque introduced a fascinating technique (more elaborate than that of Quairawan) in extending the height of short columns to achieve a standard height of space (roof and ceiling). In the first instance, architects of Abd-Al-Rahman I used super-imposed arcades of round arches while in Quairawan Mosque (in 836) this was achieved by stretching up the arch to the desired height. In 961, and under Al-Hakem II, a third technique was introduced in the Maqsura of Cordoba Great Mosque by using the super-imposed trefoil intersecting arches which added more decorative touch to this technique. Meanwhile, the substantial use of both horseshoe and polylobed arches in Cordoba was a source of inspiration for their European adoption.

The next development was the use of ribbed domes. It was used in the Maqsura (erected between 961-968). This fashion consisted of adding ribs to the vault of the dome to give support to the structure as well as provide a fascinating internal decorative technique in the form of a rose formed by interlacing arches (ribs).

After this experience in Cordoba, the use of these ribbed domes extended in Andalusia. It was eventually employed in the majority of buildings including the famous Mosque of Bab Mardum built in 1000. Progressively, Muslims mastered this style and produced remarkable domes such as those found in Morocco, Telemcen and Isfahan.

The popularity of this extended also to churches of Christian parts of Andalusia and then to Europe where the majority of domes adopted the Cordoban approach. Some academics, such as Lambert, Male, and Choisy firmly established that this Cordoban technique was the origin of the ribbed vaulting of the Gothic.

Another remarkable feature of this Mosque is its polychromy. The use of red and white coloured bricks, although its first use was the Dome of the Rock where an alternation of black and white was introduced. Its inclusion especially in the voussoirs of the arches of Cordoba Mosque produced a delightful atmosphere emphasising structural unity and aesthetic continuity. European visitors of the 9th and 10th centuries couldn’t resist its overwhelming beauty and wasted no time in introducing it in their buildings.

Cordoba Mosque showing the intrusion of the Christian Church in its heart.


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