Modern-day visitors to the Mosque-Cathedral will notice a curious mix of Christian and Muslim traditions. A large cathedral sits at the center of the mosque, crosses are situated alongside mihrabs, Spanish Catholics attend weekly services while Muslim tourists take in the beauty of the traditional Islamic architecture.
As its name might suggest, the Mosque-Cathedral, or Mezquita-Catedral, has served as a religious site for both Christians and Muslims over different times in its history.
The Mosque-Cathedral was built first as a mosque at the end of the 8th Century, during the period of the Islamic rule of southern Spain (or al-Andalus) under Abd er-Rahman I, the then caliph of Cordoba. He meant it to equal, if not surpass, in size and beauty the great mosques he knew in the Near East and thus the mosque became one of the largest religious spaces and grandest mosques in all of Spain.
There was once a Roman temple where the Mosque-Cathedral stands today, whose ruined pieces are believed to have been used to construct the Islamic place of worship. Following the Roman times, a Visigothic Christian church was also built there, which was shared by both Christians and Muslims after the Umayyad conquest of Spain. The Mosque-Cathedral was built as the original church became too small for the growing Muslim community in Córdoba.
However, with the Catholic reconquering—or reconquista—of Spain, the grand structure fell into Christian possession, eventually housing a cathedral, its minaret converted to a bell tower.
To top off the religious diversity, the Mosque-Cathedral is located in the center of Cordoba’s judería, Jewish Quarter, bringing together all the religious traditions and cultures that have lived in and once contributed to Spanish culture and identity.
Know Before You Go
Guided tours of the Mosque-Cathedral are a wonderful way to hear about the history of Islam in Spain, but if you're traveling on a budget there are a few ways to see the Mosque for free. First, admission to the Mosque is free from 8:30am until 9:30am (but only for individuals). Second, the Mosque today functions as an active Spanish Cathedral and admission to church services is free. You'll be expected to be respectful and won't be allowed to explore the Mosque beyond the Cathedral-area, but you'll have a free ticket to watching or participating in a traditional Spanish Mass while taking in the beauty of the Cathedral. The Mosque-Cathedral is located in the central tourist-area of Córdoba. Beware of pickpockets: Roma women tend to gather outside the entrances and exits of the Mosque and will offer visitors a sprig of Rosemary or a palm-reading while pickpocketing them or asking to be paid. But don't worry too much, this is a beautiful part of Córdoba and you should try wandering along the Río Guadalquivir, strolling across the Puente Romano through the Judería, and viewing the Roman Triumphal Arch--all within a five minutes walk.