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The Mezquita-Catedral is the cathedral of the Diocese of Córdoba, a historic city in Andalusia, southern Spain. The official name of Mezquita-Catedral (Mosque-Cathedral) is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption). The colloquial Mezquita-Catedral reflects the long and complicated history of the church. Its origins can be traced back to Western Roman Empire with its Temple of Janus on the site of the current church and even earlier. Its history continued throughout the centuries of invasions and conquests, clashes of religions, political intrigues and struggling for power. Controversies regarding Córdoba Cathedral still continue today and the very history of the church is at their core. So, let's see what history tells us.
One of the earliest in time mentioning related to the area come from Ibn Hayyan (987–1075), a Muslim historian from al-Andalus. According to the legendary account reproduced by the historian, when king Solomon came to al-Andalus, passed through Cordoba and saw a ravine used to dump waste, he said: "fill and level the place, for a temple which will pay tribute to God Almighty." Although not related directly to the Mezquita-Catedral, this account reveals the sacredness of the area since biblical times. From texts of Roman historians Polybius (200 - 118 BC) and Tito Livio (Titus Livius, 59 BC - 17 AD) we learn that a temple build by Romans was located in the sacred place now occupied by the Mosque-Cathedral and this temple was dedicated to the god Janus. This god of two faces had a symbolic meaning at the time related to the conclusion Second Punic War against Carthage (218-206 BC). It also appears that different granite columns from the Janus temple were later used in the construction of the mosque foundation.
But before that another chapter in the history of Mosque–Cathedral had been written. It deals with the Visigothic Kingdom which consolidating its presence in Spain by the end of 5th century. Excavations under the mosque built by Abd al-Rahman I showed that Visigoths created a episcopal site with a number of civil and religious buildings - the complex which is often referred nowadays as the Christian church of Saint Vincent.
In 711 Córdoba was captured by an Arab Muslim army. In the complex turn of events after that, Abd al-Rahman I, the founder of the Umayyad Emirate of Córdoba, started in 784 the construction of the Great Mosque of Cordoba on the site of an ancient church dedicated to Saint Vincent. The work continued for more than two centuries and eventually resulted in the most significant and magnificent Islamic monument in the Western world.
In 1236, Córdoba was captured back by King Ferdinand III of Castile ("The Saint") during Reconquista (almost 800-year period when Muslim-controlled areas of the Iberian Peninsula were taken back), and the mosque was turned back into a Christian church. Soon after that Alfonso X, his son, began the alteration of the mosque to add Christian features. This job was continued until the late 18th century with many significant changes and additions to the building. Among such alterations are Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque, the construction of Main Chapel, transept and Choir, the transformation of mosque's minaret into the bell tower of the cathedral and the construction of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the middle of the structure.
The work of history and many architects and craftsmen resulted in an amazing complex so beautiful and dazzling that according to some accounts "it defied any description." Indeed, the current footprint of the structure has a rectangular shape and is about 260,000 sq feet (almost 6 acres or 24,000 sq m). The construction and decorations are clearly a mixture of various styles with a very strong presence of Moorish architecture. Amazingly though, Moorish in origin, many things are now clearly Christian.
The Mezquita-Cathedral is made up of a courtyard and a prayer hall, divided into nineteen naves running lengthwise. The most notable feature of the building often cited and photographed is its huge arches supported by 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. If you are interested in more details regarding the building including its history and architecture, we recommend to visit the official Web site of the Mezquita-Catedral.
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What Makes It Special
As you can conclude even from the brief overview of the history of Mezquita-Catedral has been quite uncommon. More important, however, is that for most people the 500-year old Christian cathedral represents the quintessence of artistic creativity and intellectual sophistication. Without any doubt, nothing else on our planet comes even close to this amazing creation of the human genius. Words like "petrified forest", "geometry elevated into poetry", "architectural wonder", "aberration" cannot fully describe the magnificence and solemnity of the complex and deep emotional responses it evokes in visitors. The importance and special nature of the Cathedral-Mosque of Córdoba is recognized by the fact that the Historic Center of Cordoba with the cathedral as its main part is listed now as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Directions To Destination
Although traveling by air is often the best option for international travelers, the best you can do in case of Cordoba is to fly to Madrid-Barajas International airport (IATA: MAD). It is the main international airport in Spain and the main entry point for the travellers. The airport is located within city limits of Madrid 8.1 miles (13 km) from Madrid historic center Puerta del Sol.
Cordoba also has an airport; unfortunately, it serves only private charters by military and for various services (pilot school, crop spraying, etc.). But if you insist on flying, you can use Seville San Pablo (IATA: SVQ) and Granada (Federico García Lorca Granada-Jaén Airport, IATA: GRX) airports. The airports accept both, international and local flights, although Seville's airport almost three times more passengers with services to many European cities. The traveling time by car from Seville to Cordoba is about 2 hours (100 miles or 160 km); from Granada to Cordoba is about 2.5 hours (130 miles or 210 km). For comparison, a car trip from Madrid to Cordoba is about 5 hours (260 miles or 420 km).
Assuming that you arrive to Madrid airport you will need a train, bus, car or taxi to get to Cordoba. The Madrid Metro Line 8 connects the airport with Madrid city center. The metro also links the airport with the railway network. The Atocha railway station (also called Madrid Puerta de Atocha) is the largest railway station in the city. The AVE high speed trains from Barcelona, Seville and Valencia, commuter trains (Cercanías), inter-city and regional trains run from the station under the management of Renfe (the Spanish national rail company offering excellent prices). You can reach railway station by Metro taking Blue Line or Line 1 till Atocha Renfe Metro station.
Madrid-Cordoba-Seville railway lines are served from Atocha Train Station in Madrid by high-speed AVE and Talgo trains. A trip to Cordova by the fastest train takes about 1 hour 40 minutes with the price of one-way ticket from $104/person (2011). For schedules and ticket prices check websites: Rail Europe, a convenient site to book tickets and Renfe.
Secorbus SL company provides bus services between Madrid and Cordoba. Bus trip to Cordova from Madrid takes about five hours with the cost of one-way ticket of €15/person. Buses depart from Estacion del sur de Madrid (Estación Sur de Autobuses, or Bus Station South) located within Méndez Álvaro Interchange Station (bus, Metro and train stations under one roof). To get to Estacion del sur de Madrid from the airport, you can take a Metro train to Nuevos Ministerios station, then change and take Line 6, the Grey Line and proceed till Mendez Alvaro. For bus schedules and tickets the following websites can be useful: Socibus Secorbus and Estacion de Autobuses.
Bus and train stations in Cordoba are located next to each other. There are Hertz and Europcar rental offices; taxi ranks are there as well. Keep in mind that if you want to drive yourself, parking and driving (especially in the historic district) may be difficult; as a result, taxi can be a better choice.
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Best Time To Go
Although March and April are also good, May is the best time to go. The weather is mild and pleasant in May and there are several festivals Cordobés' celebrate at that time. Although Cordoba has a Mediterranean climate with mild rainy winters and isolated frosts, summers in Cordoba are very hot, especially in July and August with the average day temperatures around 97 °F (36 °C), the highest in Spain and Europe. In 2003 the registered maximum temperature at the Cordoba Airport was 46.2°. The coldest month is January with the average day temperature of about 38 °F (3.5 °C). The wettest months are December, January, February. The annual rain amount is about 21 inches (530 mm).
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Where To Stay
- Hospederia De El Churrasco (c/Romero, 38, 14003 Córdoba), a three star hotel with rates from €150. Rates are double occupancy per room/night; taxes and continental breakfast are included. The hotel is located in the historic quarter of Cordoba, next to the Jewish quarter of La Judería; it is known for the excellent price/value offering and good service. Hospederia De El Churrasco has nine rooms. Its restaurant, El Churrasco, serves mostly grilled meats and has good reputation among locals and tourists.
- Hospes Palacio del Bailio (Calle Ramírez de las Casas Deza, 10, 14001 Córdoba), a five star hotel. Rates are from euro&; 210 to 275 (prices are per room/night, taxes included). The hotel is located in 16th century palace in the heart of the ancient city of Córdoba and has 53 rooms.
Research and book hotels in or near Cordoba, Spain
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
The Cathedral is open all year, in March - October from 10.00 AM to 7.00 PM Monday - Saturday; on Sundays and feast days from 8:30 AM to 10.30 PM and 2.00 PM to 7.00 PM. In November - February from 10.00 AM to 6.00 PM Monday - Saturday; on Sundays and feast days from 8:30 AM to 10.30 PM and 2.00 PM to 6.00 PM. Entrance fee is €8. From Monday to Saturday, from 8:30 AM to 10:00 AM admission to the Cathedral is free for individual visitors.
Photography is allowed in the Cathedral with the exception of religious ceremonies. Tripods cannot be used.
The Cathedral houses a treasury with masterpieces of Alonso Cano known as "Michelangelo of Spain" (because of the diversity of his talents and a broad range of masterworks in painting, sculpture and architecture) and Enrique de Arfe, a famous German goldsmith who worked in Spain. The most precious possessions of the Cathedral are nine sculptures of saints by Alonso Cano and a silver monstrance by Enrique de Arfe (a vessel in which the consecrated Host is exposed for adoration of the faithful and usually used in the processions of Corpus Christi).
Torre de Alminar is the bell tower of the Cathedral. Built on the site of former minaret it rises 305 feet (93 m). You can enjoy a beautiful panorama of Cordoba from the top of the tower.
Córdoba is located on the banks of the Guadalquivir river and has a population of more than 325,000 people. It has one of largest Old Towns among cities in Europe. Thus, in addition to the Mezquita-Catedral (the symbol of the city and its main attraction), Córdoba has a lot to see and explore. For example, from the Roman times you may find interesting the Roman bridge as well as Roman Temple, Theatre, Mausoleum, the Colonial Forum, the Forum Adiectum, Amphitheater. If you are really interested in this period, you may want to visit Cercadilla, an archeological site Cercadilla, about 360' x 660' excavation (110 m x 200 m). This not aesthetically very attractive place is known now for the remains of the palace built by Emperor Maximian Hercules in 3rd century AD.
The list of attractions in Córdoba has much more than just the remains of Roman architecture. There are numerous churches and palaces, sculptures and memorials, gardens and parks - such list would include hundreds of places and would go beyond the scope of this article. Point is - if you are in Córdoba, do yourself a favor and find a good travel guide to take fully advantage of the time spent in this magnificent city. As an example, I would like to mention Iglesia de Santa Marina (Church of Santa Marina) - one of oldest of Fernandine churches, was built in 8th century on the site of Visigothic temple. Or, visit the Jewish quarter of Barrio de la Judería (or, simply, La Judería) is located in the historic center, not far from the Cathedral of Cordoba. It is a reminder of the Jewish population of Moorish Cordoba and is full of medieval charm with narrow streets winding through the quarter and ending with cosy squares, old buildings and the 14th century synagogue.
While planning your visit to Córdoba, consider traveling in May - that's the month when several interesting festivals take place in the city. Among them:
Cruces de Mayo (Festival of the May Crosses) - the first week of May. The neighborhoods create big flower crosses and display them in the main squares of Cordoba. You can enjoy the craftsmanship, drink wine in the temporary bars constructed for the occasion and watch spontaneous flamenco dancing which often lasts till morning.
Cata de Vino-Montilla Moriles (Moriles Montilla Wine Tasting fair) - held every year in Cordoba from May 11 to May 15 . With various local wineries and restaurants participating in the fair, it is a good opportunity to taste wines of the region. The event usually takes place in the city center under a huge tent; together with wine there is a good selection of food. Music and fun continue in the afternoon until late evening.
Feria de Córdoba (Cordoba Fair) - held on the last week of May. It is famous for its flamenco and salsa music, dancing, eating and drinking. The fair tales place at the municipal El Arenal grounds on the outskirts of Cordoba. You can take a bus running from the center to the fair. In the city, the fair is celebrated in the squares and streets by thousands of masked people dressed in Andalusian costumes. During this week many businesses work only till the lunch time and some do not work at all.
Festival de Patios (Festival of Patios) takes place throughout the month of May. Residents of Cordoba open the doors of their homes to show their patios - a feature originated from Roman times due to hot climate of Andalusia. The homeowners usually fit their central patios with water features, flowers, plants as an attempt to keep their homes cooler. Often decorative details are added to patios which are shown proudly to everybody by opening the doors of many Cordobense houses once a year.
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