Art Abroad: The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba

Located in the centre of the historical quarter of the small city of Córdoba, Spain, the Mosque-Cathedral (Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba) reflects the tumultuous battle for religious supremacy which shaped the history of southern Spain. The traditional Islamic architecture, with palpable Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine influences, sharply contrasts the mannerist-style Christian additions of later years. The differing styles visually demonstrate the changing currents of power in southern Spain throughout the centuries, from the Muslim period beginning in the 9th century, to the reconquista of the 13th century, which saw the Christian retaking of the region. For those interested, this aspect of the building’s past is discussed at length throughout the museum-type display shown throughout the interior.

Asides from its fascinating history, the Mosque-Cathedral also possesses some of the most enchanting architecture of its time. Stepping in from the blistering heat of mid-July, the dark, cool interior of the building feels like another world. The intricately carved high ceilings and expansive space are, at first, overwhelming. The ethereal glow cast by the stained glass windows serves to further reinforce the air of spirituality which permeates the building. Most striking of all are the double arches which pepper the interior. These iconic structures use alternating red and white voussoirs, which are a unique feature of its design. Each wall is lined with eclectic chapels, containing dramatic Christian icons and statues, often ironically cast against walls decorated with Islamic mosaic. This contrast is reflected on a grander scale in the large-scale Catholic cathedral somewhat awkwardly built in the centre of the mosque. This section of the building has a different atmosphere to that of the mosque, being much more bright, open and lavishly encrusted with decoration. Though perhaps a heavy handed attempt at establishing a sense of supremacy, the intense ornamentation of the Christian cathedral is nonetheless intriguing. The high relief carving of the wooden choir stalls are especially worth giving a closer look, as they feature many small comedic scenes, such as nuns mockingly sticking their tongues out at the viewers.

Though a busy tourist destination, the Mosque-Cathedral still functions as a Catholic church to this day. Its popularity does not impede upon its unique beauty and elegance. Indeed, at the centre of a sea of ice cream parlours and gift shops, the Mosque-Cathedral seems like a space transported from another time. If you ever find yourself in this part of Spain, it is certainly worth the €7 entrance fee. The Mosque-Cathedral demonstrates the timeless connection between art and faith, showcasing the combined work of people from different religions, cultures and times.



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