Cordoba, The Great Mosque

Era 10AD
Location Calle Cardenal Herrero, 1, 14003 Córdoba, Spain

This building is now the cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, the Christian church nested within the great Islamic mosque. The Córdoba Great Mosque had originally been built by ‘Abd al-Rahman in the eighth century when the Umayyads had fled Syria for Spain and it held a significant symbolic place in the ideology of the al-Andalus caliphate. The caliph Al-Hakam expanded the Great Mosque between 961 and 976, adding mosaics to it in deliberate imitation of the Umayyad Great Mosque of Damascus. He extended it by twelve bays, and added a rich decorative programme of marbles, stucco and mosaic. The mosaics are in the qibla, and are mainly gold and shades of green and blue, though reds, purples and yellows are also present. Unlike Damascus, there are no representations, just geometric and floral patterns into which inscriptions, gold Kufic lettering on a blue background, are inserted and sometimes lost.

The use of mosaic was a deliberate statement of religious and political allegiance, both present and past: with Umayyad Damascus rather than Abbasid Baghdad. Evocations of the great Mosque of Damascus, and indeed of the Dome of the Rock and the Great Mosque in Medina, the other great building projects of the earlier Umayyad caliphate, were always apparent in Córdoba. Like the Great Mosque of Damascus, the Córdoba mosque was said to have been built on the site of a major church, and enlargements of the mosque made sure they followed its original proportions. The parallels with the Great Mosque in Damascus - even to the point of its being old-fashioned by the tenth century - underline a fierce, near-obsessive dependence on the Umayyad heritage of Syria which characterised Muslim al-Andalus for centuries: ‘Abd al-Rahman had been an invader in Spain, a stranger in a strange land, fleeing from Syria and desperate to hold on to his Umayyad heritage. But the mosque also made reference to local elements and to Jerusalem, both the al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock in the use of mosaic. Only two medieval mosques in Islamic world survive that are bigger than that of Córdoba: Samarra and Rabat.

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