Cordoba was the capital of Moorish Spain and its main draw for us was the Mezquita, or Great Mosque, dating from the late 700s. A Belgian couple we had met at an aire the previous night told us that the cathedral was closed for Easter celebrations – not a problem we thought. A mosque will not be troubled by Easter preparations! Little did we know (mainly because we had not read our guidebooks properly) that the mosque and the cathedral are one and the same!
A very brief and very simple history – Moors start building the mosque in 785 on the site of a Visigoth basilica, land which they either purchased or stole from the Christians, depending on whose version you choose to believe. Cordoba is reconquered by King Ferdinand III in 1236, a small chapel was built inside the mosque and the building was dedicated as a cathedral in the same year. Eventually the Christians felt the ‘inconvenience of celebrating the Liturgy amid a sea of columns’ (a quote from their leaflet!) and in 1523 work began on building the main chapel, transept and choir. In the middle of the mosque. Which is now the Cathedral of Cordoba.
The resulting building is fascinating and strange – Moorish columns, arches & tiles – Christian altars, soaring ceilings, crosses. It is stunningly beautiful inside and out and is another one of those places which makes you feel a bit silly as you wander around, jaw permanently dropped.
Did he take any photos, I hear you ask? Did he, by ‘eck!
The rest of Cordoba was pretty fantastic too – a great city with a lovely feel. The campsite was ridiculously expensive but we decided to splurge and stay three nights. And go out for dinner and lunch. Vegetarian food was easier to find in Spain than we had expected and we had a great dinner in a ‘Moorish’ restaurant – vegetable couscous with mint harissa, nutty/honey pastries and Arab coffee. Even Aussie Dad was persuaded to stay out a good couple of hours past his normal bedtime!
On our last day, we visited Medina Azahara, the ruins of a Moorish palace complex, completed in 961 and then plundered and burned by Berber mercenaries in 1010. The museum showed a great film about the place, which included computer-generated buildings growing from pictures of the ruins that are visible today – very helpful for giving you an idea of what was what as you are walking around. Our guidebook said that ‘you have little more than foundations to fuel your imaginings’. Excuse me? What about..
I guess it is not called a Rough Guide for nothing!