Cordoba’s stunning Mezquita is one of the world’s great Islamic buildings.
I paid a short visit to the Andalusian city of Cordoba a couple of years ago and ever since I’ve been recommending the city to anyone who will listen as being a place well worth visiting. A recent visit to the Cheltenham Literature Festival, to hear two experts discussing the Moorish Empire in Spain has only served to make me even keener to return to Cordoba and the nearby cities of Seville and Granada. Before any future visit I would aim to do some background reading about Muslim Spain and the legacy left by the Moors, to try and gain even more from the visit than last time.
The Moors arrived in Spain in 711 when an army crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and settled largely in Andalucia (al Andalus). Within a few years they had conquered most of Spain, excepting Asturias. The ruled for nearly 800 years in many areas so it is not surprising that the architecture we find in many Spanish cities, especially in Andalucia, has a very strong Muslim influence.
Like most other visitors to Cordoba, I was completely blown away by the Mezquita, Cordoba was the capital of Moorish Spain and it has been described as “the most civilised city in Europe in the 10th Century”. The mosque, or mezquita, in Cordoba became the second most important place of worship after Mecca in the Muslim world. You cannot help but gaze in wonder at the breath-taking red and white columns, arches and ornate ceilings which are beyond description. One of the strangest features of the Mezquita is that within its walls is a Catholic cathedral, built in the 16th Century in the heart of the former mosque. This apparently meant tearing down the centre of the mosque. The contrasts between the Muslim and Catholic architecture really do have to be seen to be believed. After a visit to the Mezquita, it is well worth setting aside an hour or two to wander around the streets of the Juderia, the old Jewish quarter and, if time allows, to visit the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos.
While on the trail of the Moors in Andalucia, a visit to Seville is not to be missed. Seville was the second city of al-Andalus at the time of Moorish rule. The impressive cathedral occupies the site of the former Muslim mosque and the famous Giralda bell tower was formerly the mosque’s minaret. The Alcazar is another unforgettable and beautiful building. I could revisit it many times and see something different every time. The building was started by the Moors but many of its most beautiful rooms were built in later years by Moorish workmen for the Christian King Pedro in the 14th Century.
Another landmark to try and see in Seville is the Torre del Oro (Golden Tower) which dominates the skyline by the River Guadalquivir next to the Puente San Telmo. It was a watchtower which formed part of the Moorish fortified walls which originally enclosed the city.
We shouldn’t leave out Granada in this blog about the Moors in Andalucia – but that will have to wait for another time…