Chronology, Photos and Maps of Islamic Spain
CORDOBA - THE GREAT MOSQUE
(and a cathedral)
The logistics of a visit to now little town of Cordoba from our Andalusian base at Carmona could not have been easier. As soon as you cross the river there is a convenient car park by the walls of the old Porta Sevilla, looked after by the usual helpful villainous looking Romany car space finder and (in our experience reliable) custodio. Then it's just a quiet stroll through the attractive streets to the Mosque. There are not even many people around until you close in on the coach dumping ground close to the Mosque. Inside the great building the early crowds thin dramatically as American lunch time and tight tour schedules call (Cordoba is not a tour company overnighter), and by 2 the mosque is almost empty - time for serious photography.
Then after 3 it's time to enjoy another great Spanish luxury - the late lunch (without tourists). For the second time in Spain the Dom risked a restaurant next to the main event (José Garcia Marín's "El Caballo Rojo" -The Red Horse), and for the second time it worked brilliantly - an aperitif of cold dry sherry, cold white garlic soup (a superior cousin of gazpacho - made with ground almonds, bread and ?? as well as lots of garlic - and one of the gastronomic discoveries of the trip), a local dry white wine, and melt in your mouth poached fish. The sort of day that would make anyone want to be a Paradox.
If we were to revisit Andalucia we would spend 2 or three nights in Cordoba - there is more to experience and enjoy than can be done in a day trip.
784 AD, and Abd al-Ramin I gets going with the first phase of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, using columns, capitals and bases recycled from the previous site occupant, the Visigoth Church of San Vincente, and the ruins of other Visigothic and Roman buildings. As most of these components were different sizes, their incorporation into what comes across as a coherent whole, was in itself a major major architectural achievement. For example, look at the way the bases on the columns above have been adjusted for height, or how the capital further below is clearly not sitting on the column it started its life with.
The need for height and lightness is achieved through the equally brilliant idea of double arches. Just how critical the height is to the space's aesthetic is apparent when you go through to the "new" (= late 900s) al-Mansur part which superficially looks the same but feels more cramped because it is a foot or two less high. Some of the double arches like those in the middle ground below are semi circle above over circle (horse-shoe), whereas others are semicircle above semicircle (see top photo), again designed around the requirements dictated by the recycled columns et al.
Today this is one of the oldest places of worship still intact, and it was so big that even the decision by the medieval church to build a large cathedral in the middle of it has not destroyed it's essential feel.
A closer look at how each footing / column / capital / arch structure had to be individually designed with appropriate spacers / joins to accommodate whatever recycled material was being used.
From the orange treed courtyard, the cathedral structure - parachuted into the middle of the mosque - becomes more apparent, but inside it can be ignored, so large is the unaffected section of the columned mosque.
On the north side of the courtyard, a few modifications and height extensions converted a minaret into a bell tower. After his sack of Santiago de Compostela in 997, Al-Mansur had had Christian slaves carry the cathedral bells from Compostela to the Great Mosque of Cordoba. 240 years later, in 1236, Fernando III ("The Saint"), King of León and Castile (1198 - 1217 (King of Castile) - 1230 (King of León) - 1252 (54)) had Muslim slaves carry the bells back to Santiago after he captured Cordoba.
The western facade gives one some idea of the size of the space inside. There are also some attractive features on the East wall - which we will get to, along with the ghetto, when we stay overnight in Cordoba one day.
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After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Vandals (briefly) then the Visigoths fill the vacuum left on the Iberian peninsular. Visigoth King Leovigildo establishes his court in Toledo in 569, and in 589 Toledo becomes the political and religious capital of Hispania, after the abandonment of Arianism and conversion to Catholicism by the Visigoth king Recaredo.
The Visigoth administrations are generally shambolic and riven with intrigue (and indeed there are only a couple of hundred thousand Visigoths around anyway compared to a few million Hispano-Romans), and they only survive for just over a hundred years before a competitor higher up the organizational food chain arrives in 711. The Visigoths do, however, leave the world the architectural legacy of the horseshoe arch and the intellectual legacies of the encyclopaedias of San Isidoro.
Muslim Spain 711 - c1232 - 1492 (only Nasrid Grenada from c1232)
Berber Tarik-ibn-Zeyad crosses the straits of Gibraltar (jabal Tariq - the mountain of Tariq) into Iberia and, meeting no effective resistance, heads north and ends up taking over the Visigoth capital of Toledo.
A larger force of Arabs joins in and within a few years (around 719) Arabs and Berbers are rampaging overland through the West of France. They suffer a big defeat at the hands of Duke Odo of Aquitaine near Toulouse in 721, but even this does not stop their advance into central France. Some even get as far as Burgundy (Autun to be exact, which fell to Umayyad forces on 22 August 725). But they eventually have the misfortune to encounter Charles Martel, the most competent and ruthless of the Frankish / French commanders (and grandfather of the Emperor Charlemagne the Great), who establishes his authority in a series of skirmishes in the area between Tours and Poitiers in 732 (called the Battle of Poitiers if you came from Aquitaine, or the Battle of Tours if you were a Frank, but either way it was not the big set piece battle it is often portrayed as) and then further south, after which the Muslim threat fades away back across the Pyrenees into Al-Andalus.
c718 - 737
Pelayo - first King of the Asturias is elected by the tribes-people of the Asturias and Visigoths who had escaped Tariq. His victory over the Moors at Covadonga sometime between 718 and 725 marks the beginnings of Christian resistance to the Moorish conquerors. Alfonso I (King of the Asturias 739 - 757 and the first of numerous Alfonsos to King the Spanish Kingdoms) was Pelayo's son-in-law. Rebellious frictions between Berbers and Moors in 740 enable Alfonso to expand the frontiers of his fledgling Kingdom into Galicia and León.
Back in Damascus, the Umayyads fall victims to a palace coup by the Abbasids, who take over the Muslim world and set up capital in Baghdad, which they soon make into the happening world glittering court.
Just one member of the otherwise exterminated Umayyad "royal family" escapes to Spain, where he settles in Cordoba, proclaims himself Emir Abd al-Ramin I ( ? - 756 - 788), and welds together (until he dies anyway) the disparate Arab (Moor) and Berber forces into the Kingdom of al-Andalus, aka the Emirate of Cordoba.
The Baghdad based Abbasid Caliph pays the Emperor Charlemagne to invade Spain. The Emperor's nephew Roland unsuccessfully lays siege to Zaragoza, then sacks the Basque town of Pamplona before retreating messily through the Roncesvalles Pass on 15 Aug 778, where he gets taken apart by angry Basques (not Moors as several accounts tell you) - a battle which gives rise to the famous epic "Song of Roland" some 300 years later.
Abd al-Ramin I gets going with the first phase of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, using columns, capitals and bases recycled from the previous site occupant, the Visigoth Church of San Vincente, and the ruins of other Visigoth and Roman buildings. Today this beautiful space is one of the oldest European places of worship still intact.
Vikings start attacking ports down the Atlantic coast, and eventually round the bottom of Spain and reach Seville where they are beaten up big time by the local Muslim forces and retire, never to return.
Abd al-Ramin III (912 - 929 - 961 (49)) takes over what is by now the glittering court of Europe and declares Cordoba a Caliphate, naturally with his good self as Caliph. There are now 3 Caliphs in the Moslem world.
976 - 1002
Abd al-Ramin's son, Caliph Al-Hakam II, dies in 976, and the awful Arab Al-Mansur (c938 - 1002 (64)) takes over as regent for the child Caliph Hisham II. All hell breaks loose across the Christian north and east of the Iberian Peninsula as Al-Mansur locks up young Hisham in the new Palace of Al-Medina and takes to the road. During the course of some 57 military campaigns (that's about 2 a year) he destroys (like burns to the ground), among other things, Barcelona (985), Santiago de Compostela (997), Leon, and numerous churches, abbeys and monasteries. This counterproductively (for him) leads the disparate Christian Kingdoms to unite, and eventually his army is crushed in 1002 by a coalition of Christian forces at the Battle of Calatañazor. Mansur, unable to resist the temptation of destroying the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla whilst retreating home, is wounded and dies.
And that's basically it for the Umayyads of Al-Andalus - the dynasty finally dies out in 1031.
Postscript story: After the sack of Santiago de Compostela in 997, Al-Mansur had had relays of Christian slaves carry the cathedral bells to the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Fernando III, King of León and Castile ("The Saint" 1198 - 1217 (King of Castile) - 1230 (King of León) - 1252 (54)) had Muslim slaves carry the bells back to Santiago in 1236 after he recaptured Cordoba. Fernando was a great-grandson of Eleanor of Aquitaine through his mother Berenguela and her mother Queen Leonora, one of the Plantagenet Kids.
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1040 – 1099 (59)), aka el Cid Campeador or just el Cid, starts off in the Royal Court of Castile but is later exiled and goes mercenary - generalling for both Christian and Moors until finally capturing and ruling Valencia until his death in 1099. On the way he generates material for the first great Spanish epic poem (El Cantar del Mio Cid (1140)), and numerous writers, poets, composers and film producers over the next thousand years. You will hear that officially el Cid's tomb is in Burgos Cathedral (and indeed his and Mrs Cid's bones were moved there in the 1920s), but make sure to see the much earlier and more interesting (and now boneless) sarcophagus in the Benedictine (now Cistercian) Abbey of San Pedro de Gardina, just outside Burgos.
If you want to avoid the main Camino crowds, there is now a Camino del Cid which heads south from Burgos.
As the first Crusaders take over Jerusalem, the whole of Muslim Spain has fragmented into warlordships - known as Taifa Kingdoms. One of the most important of these is based on Seville (Isbilya), and it is said that the embroidered lining of the St Isidore reliquary casket which Seville gave to King Ferdinand I's new monastery in León in the mid 1000s, is made from the mantle of Isbalyan ruler al-Mutadid (ruler 1042 - 1068).
Christian Kingdoms of the north and east have taken advantage of this disunity to speed up the roll-back of the borders of Al-Andalus. The arrival of a new (austere Muslim) player - the Almoravids - gets Muslim Spain back into a sort of order for 100 years, then yet another group - the (more austere) Almohads, takes over until the early 1200s, by which time the borders of Al-Andalus have shrunk even further.
Alfonso Henriques breaks from Leon and Castile, proclaims the establishment of an independent Portugal with himself as King, and sweeps south capturing Santarem and then laying siege to and capturing Lisbon with the help of a crusader fleet. As a token of thanks for the victory at Santarem, the new King gives a large amount of land and money for the establishment of a daughter house of Saint Bernard's Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux - to become the magnificent Cistercian Abbey of Santa Maria de Alcobaça.
The last Muslim group to gain power is the Nasrid family. By this time the Arab presence is on its way to being pushed back by "La Reconquista" - the forces of the Christian Monarchs - to the Kingdom of Granada. Seville falls in 1248, but the Nasrids manage to wheel and deal another 260 years of co-existence, and though they are an irrelevant civilization by comparison with the Cordoba Caliphate, they do bequeath to the world the glory of the Nasrid Palaces on the Alhambra in Granada.
Eventually in January 1492 the Nasrids are forced to surrender to the recently united forces of Ferdinand and Isabella, "Los Reyes Cathólicos" (the "Catholic Monarchs" - blessed as such by the Spanish Borgia Pope Alessandro VI (1431 - 1492 - 1503 (72)). The 781 year Muslim presence in Spain is over. Later in the year Columbus sets sail from Huelva and Lorenzo de' Medici dies in Florence - it is "the end of the Middle Ages".