La Mezquita – Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain

Iberia’s Greatest Mosque

The Mezquita’s 900 columns create a forest of onyx, jasper, marble, and granite, topped by horseshoe arches of candy-striped red-and-white marble. Add decorative mosaics and plasterwork, and you have one of Europe’s most breathtaking examples of Spanish Muslim architecture.

The Mezquita was constructed as a mosque by a succession of emirs between the 8th and 10th centuries, when Cordoba was the seat of the Western Caliphate and Europe’s largest city. Later it was partially destroyed and, in 1236, rebuilt as a cathedral.

In its day, La Mezquita was the crowning Muslim architectural achievement in the West, rivaled only by the mosque in Mecca. The cathedral that sits awkwardly in its center today pales by comparison, although its 18th-century Baroque mahogany choir stalls are some of Europe’s most elaborate.

Even the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V regretted having destroyed something “unique” to make way for something “commonplace.” The Moorish minaret-turned-church-spire provides a fine view of the ancient Arab and Jewish quarters below, and a short respite in the Courtyard of the Orange Trees is as fragrant and refreshing as when it was first enjoyed by the caliphs.

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