Qantara Qantara

Mosque of Córdoba

  • Name : Mosque of Córdoba
  • Place : Córdoba, Spain
  • Construction date/period : 786-988
  • Construction materials : stone, marble, brick, plaster, wood and mosaic, and reused materials
  • Dimensions : 12,000 m2

‘Abd al-Rahman commissioned the construction of the Mosque[1]Córdoba with its ‘suburbs’[2]. The origina near the western part of his palace, at the end of the Roman bridge that connects l building was a square enclosure that was divided into two areas—a courtyard and a roofed prayer hall. This room had ten arcades that divided it into 11 naves perpendicular to the qibla wall[3].

The main innovation inside the building was the adoption of a system of superposed arches—the lower arches are horseshoe arches and the upper ones are semi-circular arches—for the arcades that demarcate the naves. This may have been influenced by the Roman aqueducts, such as the one in Merida. This technique made the upper arch into a relieving arch for the roof. The superimposition also produces a raised and spacious prayer room, and enhances the columns on the lower level. Access to the building, apart from the various courtyard doors that were used by the worshippers, was by means of an entrance in the western wall: Bab al-Wuzara (Gate of the Viziers), also known as St. Stephen's Gate, which was reserved for the king and his court.

The first extension of the mosque consisted of extending the prayer hall's arcades to the south. This involved the demolition of the qibla wall, whose former location is indicated by wider pillars corresponding with the exterior buttresses, which are still visible inside the Mosque. The system of superposed arches was maintained. Following the establishment of the Caliphate in 929 by 'Abd al-Rahman III, Córdoba became the capital of a powerful state. Work was resumed with the idea of making the Mosque into a building that preserved the dignity of the Caliphate. A large minaret was added and the courtyard façade was remodelled.

From 962 to 968, during the reign of al-Hakam II, the arcades in the prayer room were once again extended southwards through the creation of eleven naves, which were added to the existing naves. This was the most spectacular extension of the mosque. A large ribbed cupola with a stone lantern-turret, situated in the former location of the mihrab of 'Abd al-Rahman II, marks the entry to the new extension that culminates, if one follows the axis of the central nave, in three large cupolas located in front of the new mihrab, an incredible room covered with a scallop-shaped dome. This gave the Mosque a sort of T-shaped plan, in the sense that it separated the maqsura (reserved for the caliph) from the rest of the mosque. New architectural elements were then introduced, such as polylobed arches, intertwined arches, and domes mounted on ribs. A decision was also made to entirely cover the facings with carved panels, or beautifully decorative glass mosaics with gold backgrounds, imported from Byzantium and no doubt installed with the help of Byzantine craftsmen.

The final extension of the Mosque, which was less elaborate, was ordered in 988 by the chief minister of the Umayyad caliphate of Córdoba, al-Manūr. In order to double the mosque's surface area, eight naves were added along its entire length, which in fact enlarged the courtyard on its eastern side and decentred the prayer room in relation to the existing mihrab[4]. The chief characteristic of this work is the solution, employed out of functional necessity, of replacing the lower horseshoe arch with polylobed or pointed arches.

The Great Mosque combines Islamic art with Roman influences. The four phases of its construction were characterized by the use of a double system of load-bearing structures: pillars supported by columns. C. Ewert has demonstrated that this mosque was used as a model for other religious buildings, such as the small Bab al-Mardum Mosque in Toledo and the Almohad Hassan Mosque at Rabat. The T-shaped plan, outlined in the Great Mosque during the extension under the reign of al-Hakam II, was a precursor of the antithetical ‘qibla–transept’ combination, which was used in the great Almohad mosques of the twelfth century, in Tinmel, Marrakech, and Sevilla.

The city of Córdoba fell to the Castilian king, Ferdinand III the Holy, on 29 January 1236. In the same year, the Great Mosque was purified and consecrated as a Christian church. It was then modified and transformed. In the sixteenth century, construction began within the Mosque on the Cathedral of Santa Maria, which currently stands in the middle of the prayer hall.


[1] It housed the Qur'an stained with the blood of ʿUthmān, which was used in processions.

[2] In accordance with the major founding cities of the Muslim East, such as Kufa and Wasit (Iraq).

[3] The concept of long naves perpendicular to the qibla wall was imported from Syria, home of the Umayyads of Spain. These naves had already been used in the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and continued the Paleo-Christian tradition of the basilical room.

[4] Le mur de qibla d’al-Hakam atteignant déjà presque le fleuve.


Ewert, C., ‘La mezquita de Córdoba: santuario modelo del Occidente islámico’, in López Guzmán, R. (dir.) La arquitectura islámica del Islam Occidental, Madrid: Lunwerg Editores, 1995, pp. 55–68.

Fernández-Puertas, A., ‘Mezquita de Córdoba. Trazado proporcional de su

planta general’, in Archivo Español de Arte, No. 291, Madrid, 2000, pp. 217–247.

Gómez-Moreno, M., ‘El arte árabe español hasta los almohades. Arte mozárabe’, in Ars

Hispaniae, III, Madrid, 1951, pp. 24–162.

Ocaňa Jimènez, M., ‘Documentos epigráficos de la mezquita’, in La mezquita de

Córdoba: siglos VIII al XV, Córdoba, 1986, pp. 16–27.

Pérez Higuera, Mª T., ‘La mezquita de Córdoba’, in El esplendor de los omeyas

cordobeses, exhibition catalogue, Granada, Alhambra, 1992, Grenade: Fundación El Legado Andalusí, 2001, pp. 372–379.

Torres Balbás, L., ‘Arte hispanomusulmán hasta la caída del califato de Córdoba’, in Historia de España, t Vol., Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1957, pp. 333–788.

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