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The Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain

February 27th, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

Photo: Interior of the Mezquita

The Mezquita (Spanish for "mosque", from the Arabic مسجد "Masjid"), is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Córdoba, Spain that was at one time the second largest mosque in the world.

The construction of the Mezquita (originally the Aljama Mosque) lasted for over two centuries, starting in 784 A.D. under the supervision of the first Muslim Amir Abd ar-Rahman I, who used it as an adjunct to his palace and named it to honor his wife. The site was that of the Visigothic cathedral of St. Vincent. When the forces of Tariq ibn-Ziyad had first occupied Córdoba in 711, it had been equitable that they and the Christians share the cathedral space, according to the historian ar-Râzî, who documented the mosque's history. But with the establishment of the Umayyads in exile as emirs of Córdoba, the compromise was no longer sufficient. Negotiations between the Emir and the bishop of Córdoba, eased by the promise of a large cash payment as well as permission to rebuild one of the extramural churches that had been leveled at the time of the conquest, resulted in the Christians' relinquishing their half of St. Vincent, which was razed and the new mosque, in its first phase, built upon the foundations (Wolf). Unique among all other mosques, the Mihrab does not point towards Mecca. Several explanations have been proposed to explain the mosque's unorthodox orientation. Some have suggested the mihrab faces south because the foundations of the mosque are borrowed from the old Roman and Visigoth constructions. Others contend that Abd ar-Rahman oriented the mihrab southward as if he were still in the Ummayyad capital of Damascus and not in exile.

The mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd ar-Rahman III ordered a new minaret, while Al-Hakam II, in 961, enlarged the plan of the building and enriched the mihrab. The last of the reforms was carried out by Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir in 987.

It was the most magnificent of the more than 1,000 mosques in the city, and was at one time the second largest mosque in the Muslim world. It was connected to the Caliph's palace by a raised walk-way, allowing the ruler of Cordoba to visit the mosque without risking assassination. Today the Bishop's palace stands on the site of the Caliph's.

The city in which it was built was subject to frequent invasion, and each conquering wave added their own mark to the architecture. The building is most notable for its giant arches, with over 1,000 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple which had occupied the site previously, as well as other destroyed Roman buildings. The "poly-lobed" arches, pictured above, were a new introduction to architecture, and helped support the tremendous weight of the higher ceilings. Besides these horseshoe-topped arches, the Mezquita also features richly gilded prayer niches. A centrally located honey-combed dome has beautiful blue tiles decorated with stars. The mihrab is a masterpiece of architectural art, with geometric and flowing designs of plants. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and orange tree courtyard.

The year (1236) that Cordoba was recaptured from the Moors, by King Ferdinand III of Castile and rejoined Christendom, the mosque was reconsecrated a Christian church. This was normative practice in that era. Hajia Sophia in Constantinople, for example, was consecrated as a mosque the day the Ottoman armies entered that city. The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens has been a temple of Athena, a church and a mosque. In the Iberian peninsula, there are buildings that have, by turns, been synagogues, mosques, and churches, with some changing hands multiple times. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the structure of the mosque, but later repented of this addition. The kings who followed added further Christian features: Enrique II rebuilt the chapel in the 14th century.

The most significant alteration was the construction of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the middle of the structure. It was constructed by permission of Carlos V, king of united Spain; once he saw what had been built, he exclaimed, "You have built what you or others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something unique in the world." However, the addition of the cathedral nave is believed to have supposedly reinforced the edifice's structural stability[citation needed], and its conversion to a Christian church (officially the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin) may have helped to preserve it when the Spanish Inquisition was most active. However, it is well known that the locals, old Christians and converts alike, vehemently protected the monument after the city was regained by the Christian kings.

Artisans and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century.

In 1931, Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal was the first Muslim to pray in the Mezquita after its closure to Islam. Bishop, Juan Jose Asenjo, has refused permission for Muslims to pray in the Mezquita

[Source: Wikipedia]

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