Córdoba was the glorious capital of the emirs and caliphs ruling Islamic Iberia in the Medieval period. Possibly the largest city in Europe at the time, its historic wonders are breath-taking.
A great medieval city, Córdoba in present Spain is now small and easy to get around in. It’s a flat, touristy place to see in a few hours on foot in winding medieval streets and its historical centre is world heritage for a reason.
The main thing to see and do in Córdoba is the Mosque-Cathedral with its rightly world-famous arcaded hypostyle hall with a “forest” of 856 columns of onyx, jasper, marble, granite and porphyry. The sight is gripping and this hall is a well-preserved interior of the 9th to 10th century main mosque of Islamic Iberia.
The great mosque was ordered in 784 by the founder of the ruling dynasty, Abd al-Rahman I, “the Falcon of Andalusia”, who employed the best available architects and craftsmen, creating a masterpiece of Moorish architecture. Expansions and additions continued until the 13th century conquest of Córdoba (and Islamic Spain) by Christian rulers who converted it to a church. Most Islamic features were saved, however, though Christian ones were also added.
A stunning feature of the mosque besides the forest of columns is the mihrab, the niche indicating the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca (and hence the direction to be faced when praying). The mihrab here is exceptionally well decorated with exclusive stonework and gold mosaics. These mosaics look a bit Byzantine and that is no coincidence since they were actually made in the 10th century by craftsmen sent by the Byzantine emperor Nicephorus II as a gift (along with the gold tesserae used to make the mosaic).
It is interesting that so much of Islamic cultural and historical heritage actually lies within Europe rather than being something external and other to what Europe is and was, as many politicians and debaters of the present would have it. Central Córdoba is UNESCO world heritage and so is the marvellous Alhambra palace close by and also the historical centre of Seville where the Giralda tower, a famous present symbol of the city, was actually the minaret of the grand mosque. The same thing goes for the historical centre of Istanbul, where the holiest relics of Islam are kept in the Topkapi palace museum. The remains of Islamic Sicily are another obvious case.
In later years there have been demands from Muslims to be allowed to pray in the mosque-cathedral in Córdoba with negative responses from catholic authorities. This has led to incidents of people braking this ban with serious consequences, making the site a contested heritage.
The beautiful, fortified “Roman” bridge of Córdoba is a sight as well, though maybe less Roman in its present form due to many reconstructions.
There is an interesting fortress, a medieval Jewish quarter, an archaeological museum and well-preserved city walls to discover in Córdoba as well, though the extraordinary mosque outshines them all by far.