Expansion of Abd al-Rahman II
Commissioned by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Rahman II in the 9th century, this expansion project transformed the original mosque into a monumental structure. It marked a significant milestone in the development of Islamic architecture and left an indelible mark on the landscape of Cordoba.
The Mosque Expansion of Abd al-Rahman II boasts remarkable features that continue to captivate visitors. Its breathtaking horseshoe arches, intricately carved stucco decorations, and serene courtyard provide an immersive experience in Islamic art and spirituality.
The expansion project resulted in a larger prayer hall, accommodating a greater number of worshippers and elevating the mosque’s prominence. The use of advanced architectural techniques, such as double arches and ribbed vaults, added structural strength and enhanced the aesthetic appeal of the mosque.
From an architectural viewpoint, there was a decision to continue with the double arch system in the original structure. However, there was a new development with not using the bases of the columns. The great sculptural contribution of this phase is the work carried out by the local workshops, responsible for specifically creating pieces of architectural decoration. A highlight of their work was the construction of eleven capitals which, whilst they follow the proportions of Roman art, are inspired by the boring sculpture technique. In any case, the use of sediment materials would continue to characterize the appearance of the building.
The extension of the chapel southwards led to the destruction of the original qibla wall and the building of a new one. Various sources report that the mihrab of Abd al-Rahman II projected outwards in a rectangular shape and the two pairs of columns currently located in the mihrab of Al-Hakam II belonged to it.
Visitors to the Mosque Expansion of Abd al-Rahman II are transported back in time, immersed in the ambiance of a golden era. The interplay of light and shadow, the symmetrical patterns, and the serene atmosphere evoke a sense of tranquility and reverence.
Recognizing its immense historical and cultural significance, UNESCO has designated the Mosque Expansion of Abd al-Rahman II as a World Heritage site. It attracts visitors from across the globe, offering them an opportunity to marvel at the architectural brilliance of Islamic civilization.
We find the Mihrab in the area of the Maqsurah, located in the central area of the qibla wall. Positioned between the doors to the treasury chamber and the Sabat, it is a focal point for the contribution made by Al-Hakam II to the Aljama. However, it is not only a place indicating the direction of prayer. It is also where the constructive development of this expansion converges, the area where the visitor, amazed by its richness and artistry, directs their gaze.
The Mihrab is no longer just a simple niche but is created as a place to project, becoming a small octagonal room covered by a scallop shell dome. It rises up from a marble plinth which is surrounded by a quranic surah and an inscription alluding to the creators of the work. At the top, on the wall panels, trefoil blind arches are found along with an abundant decoration of stylised plant motifs.
Its entrance is structured through a canted horseshoe arch where we find the mosaic decoration which links to the Byzantium tradition, produced by the craftsmen sent by Emperor Nicephorus II. These mosaics extend along the voussoirs with a geometric and plant-based design, but also in the inscriptions which record verses from the Koran. Added to the richness provided by the mosaics are the boards of stylised plant motifs which display the thematic motif of the “tree of life”.
Intervention of Abd al-Rahman III
Although the prayer hall was not expanded under the mandate of Abd al-Rahman III, his legacy is still present in the building. The first Caliph of Cordoba worked on the façade of the chapel overlooking the courtyard, as is recalled in an inscription located on what is known as the Blessing Arch. His intervention consisted of the superimposing on the original façade of a gallery of eleven horseshoe arches supported by columns with a rose-coloured shaft and Corinthian capitals. One highlight is the solution adopted for the pentice, where an interesting set of modillions can be seen.
In any event, it was the construction of the new minaret that was his most significant contribution as this most marked the constructive development of the building. There is evidence of the existence of an original minaret built by Hisham I, meaning that we have the oldest in the territory of al-Andalus. However, the expansion of the courtyard led Abd al-Rahman III to demolish this and build a new superb minaret which went on to influence others erected in Seville, Marrakesh and Rabat, and even some towers from Romanesque architecture.
Sources are unanimous about its monument nature and beauty. With a square floor plan, it was divided into two sections of different heights, structured around a central buttress from which came two staircases. The first of these had four windows with double horseshoe arches on its northern and southern façades, whereas the eastern and western faces had openings with three peepholes. Moreover, the second body was open on all four sides and crowned with a gilded bronze dome on which the yamur was placed, the iron rod that finished off the structure. What remains of it is currently integrated into the Bell Tower, and can be seen on the tourist visit.
Expansion of Almanzor
The extensive intervention of Almanzor in the Cordoban Aljama did not involve any new contributions from an artistic viewpoint. In contrast with the richness of the expansion of Al-Hakam II, the carving of the voussoirs of the arches is imitated using paint, with no alternation between stone and brick. Despite this, Almanzor’s contribution was important in terms of space. Let us not forget that not only was he responsible for the consecration of the characteristic architectural module, but he also configured a spacious and proportioned building. Therefore, this constructive phase, of eight new naves to the eastern side, involved the loss of the traditional axis that structured the building and brought with it the corresponding expansion of the courtyard eastwards, to which he added an underground tank.
Moreover, we cannot forget that Almanzor’s mosque also provides a new reading, that which is offered by the testimony of the stonemasons working on this phase, as can be seen in the markings carved into shafts and capitals.
Visigoth Basilica of San Vicente
In the basement of the Mosque-Cathedral Monumental Site of Cordoba are the archaeological remains of the Visigoth Basilica of San Vicente. The location of this religious site is no coincidence as it reflects the point where the major powers of the city used to gather.
We have information on the architectural complex of San Vicente from the excavations carried out by Félix Hernández. This research, produced by the person who was the conservation architect of the building, led to the discovery of a series of walls and floors. So, under the original chapel of Abd al-Rahman I we find a rectangular space which connects with the central nave of a basilica building. Likewise, the presence of a chevet apse building and the remains of a water tank can be seen, perhaps belonging to a baptistry pool. Some of the pieces recovered in the excavations are exhibited in the Monumental Site today.
The mosaics present in the basement of the mosque ofAbd al-Rahman I are also exceptional, corresponding to the flooring of one of the rooms inside the original basilica. They continue the Roman and Paleo-Christian tradition, differentiating between three decorative areas. In the first is an ornamentation of intersecting arches. In the second we find a crater with flowers next to a dove and a crown of thorns, referring to the Holy Spirit and martyrdom. Third, occupying almost the entire surface area, we find a succession of geometric motifs and symbols such as the cross.
Another of the most important archaeological finds from this room is located on its walls. Made from masonry and brick, there is an inscription, “EX OFF [ICINA] LEONTI”, which tells us the workshop where the materials came from and dates the construction to the 6th century. This epigraph is also accompanied by the chrismon, the traditional monogram of the name of Christ in Greek.