The Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba Spain is a tranquil sea of red and white arches, on a site where people have worshipped various gods for thousands of years.

I wanted to visit Córdoba, Spain, ever since I took an art history class in college and learned about its famed red and white arches.

When I finally went, I was worried that the Mosque-Cathedral couldn’t live up to the hype of my expectations. But I was wrong. In fact, the forest of columns and arches were even more impressive in real life. And their striking beauty, combined with the space’s quiet tranquility and its interesting layers of history, makes the cathedral one of my favorite places. Here’s why:

1. Its beauty

There’s nothing quite like the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba. It’s a unique amalgamation of different cultures and time periods spanning over a thousand years. The red and white Moorish arches are just the beginning. Their sheer volume (over 800 columns) is breathtaking. But taken individually they can’t compare to the arched entrance to the Mihrab. The Mihrab (Muslim prayer niche) is on the south facing wall of the cathedral and is also Moorish. It’s covered in incredibly detailed gold filigree and is the most gorgeous individual arch I’ve ever seen. The entire building is constructed and adorned in precious metals and stones. It’s a feast for the eyes.

2. Its layers of history

Even though it’s called the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba (or Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba), its history pre-dates the majority of its Moorish architecture and Renaissance embellishments.

Historians believe the cathedral was originally the site of a Roman pagan temple, and later an early Christian church. There’s a spot in the cathedral that has been excavated and is now covered over with plexiglass showing a Roman mosaic tile floor well below the ground level of the current structure.

When the Moors invaded and conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711, the early Christian church was completely rebuilt as a Muslim mosque. The vast majority of the current structure is from that time period including the red and white arches, gorgeous geometric designs, and an enclosed orange grove.

500 years later, the Moors were pushed out during the Reconquista and the mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral in 1236. They kept the majority of the structure the same, though some architectural details were added or changed such as converting the mosque’s minaret into a cathedral’s bell tower.

Finally during the Renaissance, the structure took on its current appearance with the addition of a miniature nave and chapel created in the center of all the Moorish arches. It’s a little bit surreal to walk among the endless columns until at their heart, they open up into a traditional Renaissance-styled European cathedral.

3. Its peaceful tranquility

The Mezquita-Catedral is in the heart of Córdoba’s old city, and it’s abuzz with tourists and locals alike. But the thick fortress like walls of the Moor’s structure effectively keep out the activity of the city outside. They also keep it cool, which was a nice respite from the summer heat when I visited.

The structure is so vast, that even though it is the city’s number one attraction, I wandered the columns in relative quiet solitude. My footsteps echoed against marble floors. And the tourists I did encounter spoke in hushed tones. The fact that it’s an active place of worship for Catholics encourages a sort of quiet reverence that the space naturally exudes.

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— Laura Rowley





Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

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