The Multicultural Past of Córdoba

The Multicultural Past of Córdoba

Córdoba, the former capital of Andalusia in the south of Spain and home to a variety of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. It’s hard to imagine that this tranquil city used to be a busy trading port and a significant gateway between the Arabic world and Europe, but you still see remnants of the city’s multicultural history all around. The city’s most famous landmark, the Mezquita (mosque) was originally built on a former Roman temple and the site has been used as a place of worship by all types of different people throughout history.

I spent just one day in Córdoba in the fall of 2012 and enjoyed strolling through the picturesque narrow lanes with literally radiating white houses on either sides with colourful flower pots hanging down from the walls. The flowers are such a contrast to the pristine buildings that they form little explosions of colour on your retina. As for sightseeing, there isn’t that much do in Córdoba other than a visit to the marvellous Mezquita. In this post I will tell you more about the multicultural history of the city and the significance role of the Mezquita. I’d like to note that at the time of my visit I didn’t have a good camera so unfortunately the photos aren’t of great quality, but I hope you’ll be focussing on the architecture rather than the gritty photo quality.

Córdoba from the Roman settlement to Moorish rule

The Romans built the original city around 200 b.C. on the Guadalquivir River which flows towards Sevilla and finally into the North Atlantic Ocean. The city flourished under the Roman rule and they established high level schools, an important bridge and even a city wall. Notable local figures became Senators in Rome. The famous philosopher Seneca was born in Córdoba.

Unfortunately there came an end to Córdoba’s prosperity around the 5th century after Sevilla had been appointed as the new capital of Andalusia. By this time the Romans started to lose power which enabled vandals to plunder the area and cause havoc. Córdoba ended up in the midst of battles between rivalling tribes. Eventually the Visgoth people dominated the city and built a small Christian temple, Basilica de San Vicente, on top of a former pagan Roman temple. After the Moors conquered Córdoba in 711, they shared the church with the Christians. This peaceful arrangement lasted only for a few decades until a Moorish ruler bought the Christian half of the church, demolished the building and started building the Great Mosque of Córdoba. The building work would last for two centuries.

During my wanders around the city, I stumbled upon a small synagogue, which was stunning in its simplicity. Córdoba has played a crucial role in Euro-Jewish history. It was the home of Jewish scholars, philosophers and poets. This synagogue was declared a national monument in 1985.

Córdoba synagogue

Inside the Sinagoga de Córdoba

The Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

The Moorish rule over Andalusia is often described as peaceful. The traditional thought is that Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in harmony. The tenth and eleventh century are even referred to as the Golden Age of tolerance for Córdoba. Although this is a beautiful thought, it’s not certain how accurate this belief is.

The Mezquita is the largest and most important mosque of the Western Islamic world. The stunning architecture combines different styles, from ancient Roman to medieval Moorish architecture to elements from the Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles. Walking through the building is like walking through time. In the feature image at the top of this post you see a famous image of the Mezquita, i.e. the double white and red striped arches in the prayer hall. These horseshoe arches were copied from the old Visgoth art and remained in fashion with following Moorish architecture. For the 856 columns in the hall they used remnants of the old Roman temple and ancient Roman buildings in the area. The columns consist of jasper, onyx, marble and granite.

The walls of the mosque have inscriptions from the Koran. In the photo above you see a heavily decorated golden archway. This is the mihrab, the arched doorway to Mecca. The mihrab usually faces the direction of Mecca, but instead of the southeast, the mihrab in the Mezquita faces south.

Under Christian ruling

The Mezquita was used as a mosque until the Renconquista in 1236 when Córdoba fell under Catholic ruling. King Ferdinand and his wife Isabel were far from tolerant and forced non-Catholics to convert, be expelled or even killed. Also the Mezquita was converted into a Roman Catholic church, which it still is till this day. The Muslim community has been campaigning for using the church again for their prayers since the early noughties, but all their requests have been denied so far.

You would almost think that the following photos were taken at a completely different building, but these Christian elements are indeed to be found in the Mezquita. Although I wasn’t raised as a Christian, I love visiting churches and cathedrals for the light pouring in through the glass-stained-windows or big dome. There’s something magical about seeing diffused sunlight working its way through often ancient grand buildings.

Whether you’re Catholic, Muslim, Jewish or atheist, you wouldn’t want to miss seeing such an incredible and unique building. Immerse yourself in its fascinating history and explore the variety of architectural styles. Perhaps you’ll even think of me whilst you witness stunning scenes of daylight finding its way indoors through the windows!

You can find all information regarding opening times, prices, guided tours and more on the Mezquite de Córdoba website.

Dutchie in the UK, expat, nomad, culture vulture. Loves kale – on a plate, not in a smoothie – Thai curries (fiery hot please) and Belgian beers. Also blogs on 'Dutch Girl in London' about London, lifestyle, (street) art and culture.

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