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Cordoba Mosque Architecture | Structure, Expansion & more

Mezquita CórdobaArchitecture

The Great Mosque of Cordoba, also known as Mezquita-Catedral or Cordoba Mosque is one of the oldest structures that remains from the time Muslims governed Al-Andalus in the late eighth century. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its Islamic and Christian style of architecture using horseshoe arches, tilework, and ornate domes. Read on to learn all about Cordoba Mosque’s architecture that attracts millions of visitors from around the world.

Timeline: Cordoba Mosque architectural evolution

  • Mid 6th Century: Cordoba Mosque at the time consisted of various buildings, the most notable of which was the Visigoth Basilica. Today, you can still see some of these relics in the San Vicente exhibition area.
  • 8th Century (788 AD): Al-Andalus' first minaret was constructed. It was located about ten meters south of the current tower.
  • 9th Century (833-848 AD): The mosque had to be extended due to the increase in population. Eight new naves were constructed to the south, following the original layout. The ablutions courtyard was extended as well.
  • 10th Century (951-952 AD): A new minaret was constructed, reaching a height of 47 meters and later serving as inspiration for the minarets of Seville, Rabat, and Marrakesh. Several of these original relics have been preserved in the original tower.
  • 10th Century (962-966 AD): The intervention of the Caliphate of Cordoba included the expansion of the prayer hall and the construction of a new Maqsurah and Qibla.
  • 10th Century (991-994 AD): Since it was impossible to continue expanding to the south due to the Guadalquivir  river’s proximity to the Cordoba Mosque, the Caliphate of Cordoba chose to expand the chapel to the east. He did this by expanding the courtyard and adding a tank and an ablution pavilion.
  • 14th Century (1371): Enrique II completed the Royal Chapel, a rectangular structure that houses the tombs of monarchs Fernando IV and Alfonso XI. Their remains were relocated to San Hipolito collegiate church in 1736.
  • 16th Century to Present: In 1593, the first phase of the bell tower was completed. In 1618 work on the main Altarpiece began. In 1984, the mosque was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cordoba Mosque architecture: structure & materials used

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

The hypostyle prayer hall, one of the major highlights of the Cordoba Mosque is a huge space filled with columns These columns, approximately 1250 in number, vary in height and material. Some of the columns were already in place in the Gothic building, while others were delivered as gifts from governors of provinces from around Iberia.

Cordoba mosque’s design incorporated a variety of materials, including stone, brick, marble, and granite. These materials were sourced locally or repurposed from existing structures, reflecting a sustainable approach to construction. The use of marble and granite floors added to the opulence of the prayer space, while the mosaics and marble sculptures were created to depict verses from the Qur'an.

The architecture of the Cordoba Mosque demonstrates an adaptive design approach, which makes use of available resources. The use of short columns with additional bricks, stones, or concrete allowed for the desired height of the prayer hall without the need for tall monumental columns. 

Expansion & architectural history of Cordoba Mosque

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

Original Mosque (785)

The original floor plan of Aljamas was inspired by the basilica model, which took cues from mosques in Damascus and Jerusalem's al-Aqsa. The space was divided by stacked arches into eleven naves next to the qibla wall. Similar to the Basilica of San Vicente, this innovative design also used Roman and Visigoth elements from previous projects. The original floor consisted of a thick layer of mortar over compressed earth, while the walls were constructed using limestone ashlars in a stretcher and header bond system, a specific method of arranging bricks or stones.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

First Expansion (821-852)

During Rahman II's reign, the prayer hall of the mosque was expanded into eight parts, increasing the length of the mosque by 24 meters. This expansion was influenced by the political relationships established with the Eastern Caliphate at the time, as well as the introduction of new architectural styles from the east to the peninsula. The architectural features of this enlargement, such as contrasting sections and arcs, the use of stone and brick, and overlapping segments and curves, are similar to those seen in the mosque's original construction.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

Second Expansion (951-966)

In 929, the city of Cordoba became more important in the Islamic world when the caliph Abd al-Rahman III came to power. During this time, a new minaret was built and the courtyard of the mosque was expanded. This was the first minaret in the West and it became a model for Moorish minarets and steeples built by the Almohad dynasty. Today, the minaret is located inside a Christian bell tower though it is no longer visible.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

Third Expansion (991-994)

X Almanzor completed the final significant addition to the mosque of Córdoba at the turn of the century. Almanzor expanded towards the east, taking advantage of its location near the river, and added 8 more aisles in that direction. To accomplish these improvements, Almanzor had to seize the residences in this area. The mihrab was also relocated as a result of the mosque's renovation. The arches in this section display a range of colors due to a combination of stone and brick materials.

Cordoba Mosque exterior

The Cordoba Mosque measures 590 by 425 feet (180 m 130 m) after all of its historical extensions. The initial floor layout was based on the overall shape of some of the oldest mosques built in the early days of Islam. Some of its elements were modeled after the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus.

The Cordoba Mosque has strong outer walls that make it look like a fortress. There is a large courtyard to the north surrounded by a covered walkway with gates on the north, west, and east sides. On the west side of the mosque, there used to be an elevated corridor that connected the prayer hall to the Caliph's palace across the street. The mosque's naves were decorated with valuable wine-colored marble from the nearby mountains.

Cordoba Mosque interior

Codoba Mosque Architecture

Mihrab

The Mihrab is located at the center of the qibla wall. Positioned between the doors of the Treasury Chambers and the Sabat, it is more than just a marker for the direction of prayer. This octagonal structure features a scallop shell dome rising from a marble base. Surrounding the base are Quranic verses and inscriptions honoring the creators of the Cordoba Mosque. The wall panels are decorated with stylized plant patterns. The entrance to the room is decorated with geometric mosaics and plant-based designs inspired by the Quran.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

Villaviciosa Chapel

The Villaviciosa chapel was the first main chapel of Cordoba's Mosque-Cathedral. The chapel was built between 1486 and 1496 under the reign of Alhaken II, thanks to the support of the Bishop of Cordoba Igo Manrique de Lara and the presence of Queen Isabel I the Catholic in Cordoba. After the Christian invasion of the city in the 13th century, it was the first major renovation to the Islamic mosque. The primary Christian modification to the structure was the addition of a large Gothic nave and inscriptions related to Jesus the Saviour painted on the ceiling.

Cordoba Mosque Architecture

Hypostyle Hall

The hypostyle hall in the Cordoba Mosque was built as part of the original mosque and served as the main prayer room for Muslims. It also functioned as a classroom and a courtroom for Sharia law matters during the reign of Abd al-Rahman and his successors. The hall was large and had a flat design, featuring timber ceilings supported by columns and rows of double-tiered arches. The arches divided the hall into 19 aisles, supported by over 850 columns made of various materials like jasper, onyx, marble, granite, and porphyry,, creating a look that resembled a forest of columns.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

Capilla Mayor

The Main Chapel of the Cordoba Mosque-Cathedral was constructed in 1523 to replace the old Main Chapel. According to an inscription, work on the current Main Chapel of the Cordoba Mosque began in 1523, when Alonso Manrique was Bishop of Cordoba. The Gothic-style Capilla Mayor is adorned with a ribbed vault and a stunning series of icons depicting the Assumption of Our Lady. Musical angels, saints, and apostles are also featured in the decoration.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

Choir Stalls

The old stalls from the main chapel were repurposed. Archdeacon Jose Daz de Recaldes' generous donation of 120,000 reales in 1742 made this ambitious project possible. Duque Cornejo was selected to build the stalls. Construction began on March 14, 1748, resulting in a total of 30 upper seats and 23 lower seats, made of mahogany wood and carved with various iconographic scenes. In the center, there is a grand episcopal throne that resembles the design of an altarpiece.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

Parroquia del Sagrario

The chapel has a rectangular layout with three naves and a ribbed ceiling. One of its main attractions is a series of murals commissioned by Bishop Antonio de Pazos y Figueroa that decorate the entire space. The murals depict the holy Cordoba martyrs, with detailed texts describing their lives and martyrdom based on the accounts of Ambrosio de Morales. These scenes are accompanied by paintings of landscapes and angels, with the Holy Supper scenes being particularly popular among visitors.

Córdoba Mosque Altar

Capilla Mayor Altar

The main altarpiece of the Capilla Mayor was made between 1618 and 1628 using Carcabuey marble. It was designed by Alonso Matas, who oversaw the project until 1625 when Juan de Aranda Salazar took over. The central part of the altar was left unfinished until 1653 when Sebastian Vidal completed it based on the previous designs and sketches. The altarpiece features pulpits on each side of the main arch made of marble and mahogany. It has a unique design with three vertical aisles and composite capital columns, supporting the arches and made of various materials such as stone and brick.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

Patio de Los Naranjos

The Courtyard of the Oranges came about when the Caliphate ablution courtyard was changed into a Christian courtyard, leading to a significant shift in its purpose. Originally used for ritual washing before Muslim prayer, it now plays a crucial role in hosting Catholic ceremonies within the Cathedral. Rows of orange trees, palms, and cypresses line the courtyard. The courtyard features visible stone channels that are believed to be part of the mosque's renovation projects. 

Important doors of the Cordoba Mosque

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

The Door Of Forgiveness

The Door of Forgiveness is a crucial part of the Cathedral's ceremonies and is considered a passage for important religious events. It was finished in 1377 and has been renovated multiple times, including in 1650 by architect Sebastian Vidal. Some mural paintings by Antonio del Castillo can still be seen on the door.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

The Door of Saint Catherine

It was named after the nearby Convent of Saint Catherine. The gate was redesigned by Hernan Ruiz II in 1547, taking over from his father, Hernan Ruiz I, who had passed away. The exterior of the gate features a Renaissance façade with a doorway flanked by two columns and decorative elements depicting Saint Catherine, Saint Acisclus, and Saint Victoria.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

The Door Of The Palms

Previously called the Blessings Arch, this structure was where the royal banner of each new monarch was blessed during their coronation. In 1533, Hernan Ruiz I was given permission to renovate it, adding an upper structure with a picture of the Annunciation. Small mythological figures can be seen in the lower corners near this image.

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

The Door of the Deans

This doorway is one of the oldest at the Monumental Site, dating back to Abd al-Rahman I's initial mosque. Despite undergoing multiple changes, the arch's structure still follows traditional Visigoth architectural designs. (pre-Islamic architectural styles inspired by the Visigoths)

List of important doors in Cordoba Mosque

Córdoba Mosque Architecture

West facade (North to South)

  • Postigo de la leche
  • Puerta de los Deanes
  • Puerta de San Esteban
  • Puerta de San Miguel
  • Puerta del Espíritu Santo
  • Postigo del Palacio
  • Puerta de San Ildefonso
  • Puerta del Sabat
Córdoba Mosque Architecture

East facade (North to South)

  • Puerta de la Grada Redonda
  • Fuente de Santa Catalina
  • Puerta de Santa Catalina
  • Puerta de San Juan
  • Puerta del Baptisterio
  • Puerta de San Nicolas
  • Puerta de la Concepcion Antigua
  • Puerta de San Jose
  • Puerta del Sagrario
  • Puerta de Jerusalen
Córdoba Mosque Architecture

North facade (West to East)

  • Puerta del Perdon
  • Puerta del Cano Gordo



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Frequently asked questions about Cordoba Mosque’s architecture

When was the Cordoba Mosque built?

The Cordoba Mosque was built upon the ruins of the Visigoth Basilica of San Vicente in the 8th century. Find out more about the origin of the Cordoba Mosque on our history page.

Who built the Cordoba Mosque?

The original Cordoba Mosque was built in 784–786 by the Umayyad monarch Abd ar-Raman I.

What is the significance of the mihrab in Islamic architecture?

The mihrab is a niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca, the holiest city in Islam. It serves as the focal point for prayer.

Why are there Roman columns incorporated into the Cordoba Mosque's design?

Roman columns were repurposed and incorporated into the mosque's design as a practical and cost-effective solution. They also added structural support to the building.

How did the Cordoba Mosque's architecture change over time?

The architecture of the Cordoba Mosque evolved over several centuries, with successive rulers adding new elements and modifications. For example, the minaret was converted into a Christian bell tower, reflecting changes in religious ownership and practices.

What restoration efforts have been undertaken to preserve the Cordoba Mosque's architecture?

Throughout the years, different restoration projects have been carried out to safeguard the architecture of the Cordoba Mosque. These projects involve fixing structural issues, preserving decorative elements, and implementing measures to combat the impact of aging and environmental factors, especially given its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.