Córdoba: Oranges and Abd al-Rahman’s Alhama!

Hola from Córdoba, Spain! 

On Monday we drove about 4 hours from Toledo to Córdoba on a bus. All along the road were olive trees, which made it a beautiful drive! Córdoba is amazing. We are staying right next to the mezquita (mosque), and we can see down the hill across the river. There are orange trees everywhere with oranges on them!

There are beautiful orange trees everywhere! They are edible but very sour, so it was recommended that we do not eat them. That must be why the trees are so full!
There are beautiful orange trees everywhere! They are edible but very sour, so it was recommended that we do not eat them. That must be why the trees are so full!

On Monday afternoon, we had a walking tour of Córdoba, which was really interesting. I always love going on walking tours because I feel like it is a great way to see the city and it doesn’t move too quickly. We got to walk through some of the main areas of the city and down by the waterfront. 

These remains of a Roman temple were pointed out on the walking tour. Córdoba has a long and rich history!
These remains of a Roman temple were pointed out on the walking tour. Córdoba has a long and rich history!

The mosque’s construction began in the late 700s by Abd al-Rahman. Abd al-Rahman escaped Damascus as a young man, and as a member of the Umayyad dynasty, his family was being massacred, and he managed to escape. The Muslim land of al-Andalus (what we now think of as the Iberian Peninsula) was where he sought refuge, as it was about as far as he could get from Damascus.

The stunning red and white colors are made of red brick and white stone. The alternating materials were used to strengthen the mosque structure, as well as to create a decorated arch.
The stunning red and white colors are made of red brick and white stone. The alternating materials were used to strengthen the mosque structure, as well as to create a decorated arch.

He longed for his homeland, and this shows in his design of the mosque. Abd al-Rahman’s original mosque was smaller than what we visited today, as additions were made by subsequent rulers. The original mosque was made up of 11 naves, running north-south. The qibla wall of mosques is the wall that everyone faces to pray, and there is a niche called the mihrab where the leader of the prayer sits, and their voice is amplified through the mosque. The qibla is meant to face toward Mecca, so from Córdoba, this wall should face east, however, the qibla here faces south. This is because Abd al-Rahman wanted to recreate as much of his homeland as he could in al-Andalus, and mosques in Damascus face south. I think this is one of the really interesting facts about this mosque!

At its largest, the mosque had over 1000 columns. After the cathedral was added, there were less than 850 columns remaining.
At its largest, the mosque had over 1000 columns. After the cathedral was added, there were less than 850 columns remaining.

Over time, the mosque was expanded 2 more times in the southern direction, and then was expanded once more in the eastern direction. This last addition added 8 extra naves to the original 11, which puts the mihrab off center. However, the mihrab of this mosque is absolutely beautiful, and while off center, I am so glad it was preserved and not moved, as it is made of mosaics from the Byzantine empire. Byzantine artists were hired and sent by the government from Constantinople to Córdoba to complete the decorations on this mihrab. Nothing compares to seeing it shine in person!

The stunning mihrab with Byzantine mosaics! The picture doesn’t capture how beautiful and shiny it is.
The stunning mihrab with Byzantine mosaics! The picture doesn’t capture how beautiful and shiny it is.

As you walk farther into the mosque, suddenly, there begins to be Christian imagery, and then, a huge cathedral rising out of the mosque. It was built in the 1500s, long after Córdoba was conquered in 1236. After Granada was conquered (the last of the Muslim kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula), the Christian officials wanted to make the mosque in Córdoba (which had already been used as a church for many years) into a cathedral to show their power and control over the area. King Carlos, a descendant of King Ferdinand (of Ferdinand & Isabella!) allowed the cathedral to be built. It is so interesting to see the contrast of Gothic architecture and Arabic architecture right next to each other.

The contrast between Gothic Catholic and Muslim architecture can be seen here, in La Mezquita de Córdoba.
The contrast between Gothic Catholic and Muslim architecture can be seen here, in La Mezquita de Córdoba.

I was so excited to visit this site and it did not disappoint! I feel really lucky to be able to visit. I also loved the courtyard, which features running water (an essential component of cleansing before prayer for those practicing Islam), palm, orange, and cypress trees, as well as one very old olive tree. The palm trees are a Mediterranean tree that Abd al-Rahman liked so much that he wrote a poem about them in his old age. The cypress trees are from Iran and are usually used in cemeteries because their roots grow down, not out. The orange trees are not original to the courtyard, but were planted in the 13th century by Christians. Orange trees are from China and were brought to the area by the Arabs. 

A palm tree in the courtyard of La Mezquita Alhama de Córdoba
A palm tree in the courtyard of La Mezquita Alhama de Córdoba

After visiting the mosque, we went on another walking tour to the Judería, or Jewish Quarter. The Judería is from the 1200s, after Christian conquest. We visited la Sinagoga de Córdoba which was built in 1315, and is one of 3 surviving synagogues in Spain, the other two being in Toledo. The synagogue was built in Arabic style, and the Jewish residents had to request permission from the Christian leaders at the time to build it.

The sign outside La Sinagoga de Córdoba, in La Judería.
The sign outside La Sinagoga de Córdoba, in La Judería.
The Arabic Architecture is highlighted here in La Sinagoga de Córdoba.
The Arabic Architecture is highlighted here in La Sinagoga de Córdoba.

I enjoyed the walking tour, as usual, and I am excited to see what else I learn in Córdoba! I was really excited to visit this city because we read so much about it before departing, and I feel so fortunate to be able to visit the sites I have been reading about! 

I love the orange trees here, and I couldn’t decide on my favorite photo to share here!
I love the orange trees here, and I couldn’t decide on my favorite photo to share!

Thanks for following along! 

Emmaline