The Umayyad Mosque at Cordoba, Spain

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The Great Mosque of Cordoba

The great mosque of Cordoba is well known and celebrated for its outstanding medieval architecture. It is made in such a way that elements of the new architecture are combined with old medieval architecture. The mosque is of great value to the Islamic architecture and is used as a symbol of national personality due to its location in medieval Spain, Al-Andalus, which makes it an inception point for a new tradition. The location was desirable for the mosque as it was prophesied to be a land of Islamization. It is also essential because Muslims consider it to be a representation of distinctive culture and Umayyad tradition. The mosque was constructed in such a way to reflect the doctrinal debates that arose following ‘Uthman’s mushaf death.

The Mosque Courtyard and Minaret

The mosque courtyard and minaret was refurbished by Abd al-Rahman III al-Nasir (912-961), after which al-Hakam II facilitated its expansion and interior transformation. The architecture followed the Andalusian caliphate which was not only a representation of the unity of architecture statement but also making the Umayyad’s the true caliphs. The expansion of the mosque was by the pretention and intentions of the caliphs that brought forth architecture vocabulary development to new levels. For example, "the horseshoe arches were redesigned to complex intersecting polylobed designs[1]." The expansion was well thought and executed which provided visual aids for the mosque such that it appeared like a "mosque within a mosque".

The Church and the Mosque

It is believed that the ancient founders of the mosque shared the church, Saint Vincent, with Christians which was on the same site. The church was bought by Abd al-Rahman who then demolished it and constructed the main Friday mosque. Umayyad intervention under Abd al-Rahman transformed Cordoba to an Islamic sanctuary by transforming the church into a mosque. Demolition and adoption of the myth of the church are believed to have been an expression of power by Abd al-Rahman and by the dialogue between al-Walid and Byzantine empire[2]. It is argued that Solomon once prophesied that the site which was a garbage pit would one day be a place of worship. Abd al-Rahman was an exceptional leader whose destiny also followed the Jewish prophecy as he escaped the conquest of al-Andalus.

Inscriptions and Messages

After ‘Uthman’s mushaf death a schism arose between two communities that divided their support between two caliphs. In response to this issue, the mosque extant called for a unified caliphate through the use of inscriptions. Through the inscription, they wrote statements obtained from the combination of Quranic verses to form an iconographic program. There are different sets of inscription in the mosque, all of which are intended to pass a certain message. For example, the inscription above al-Hakam entrance emphasizes on predestination and establishes religious obligations and the fruits for those people who believe the prophetic message and are steady in their faith. The mosaic inscription, on the other hand, establishes God’s character as omniscience and the duty of the believers to submit to him.

Al-Iqd and the Prophet Mosque

Abd al-Rahman complied a book, al. Iqd, with two sections that showed whether the work of an author is original or not. The descriptions provide a portrait of a shrine which is not restricted but at the same time by the Umayyad shrine layout. This description came in handy in the construction of the prophet mosque which survived for centuries. The description is not consistent as it conflated two monuments. For example, medina description begins with the interior. On the other hand, niche mihrab has an odd divergence which originates from a significant feature in the Prophet Mosque. For example, the decorative elements in the Cordoba mosque imitate the decorative scheme at the Prophet Mosque. Indeed, the value of al-Iqd is significant even though it is not clear whether the three hold shrines were added to al-Iqd.

The Cultural Heritage of Cordoba Mosque

The Cordoba mosque is rich in cultural heritage which acts as a reminds the people of the Umayyad past, the features and cultural practices with regards to the mosque as it was in the tenth century. The Cordoba mosque reflects the universality of Umayyad meant to fulfill the caliphate and caliphal prerogative[3]. Umayyad caliphal history began following the murder of Caliph ‘Uthman which resulted in arbitration and Umayyad caliphate in the year 661. Other than its aesthetic value, the mosque exhibits growth in the Umayyad architectural and a representation of an achievement, apogee, that was realized under al-Hakam II al-Mustansir (961-976).


Nuha Khoury, NN. "The meaning of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in the tenth century." Muqarnas (1996): 80-98.

[1] Nuha Khoury, NN. "The meaning of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in the tenth

century." Muqarnas (1996): 80-98.

[2] Ibid., 85.

[3] Ibid., 81.

August 01, 2023

Culture Religion



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