Second extension by al-Hakam II
Due to the growth in Muslim population in the capital of the caliphate in the 10th century, the second Caliph, Al-Hakam II (961-976), had to perform a new extension of the mosque, which is probably the richest and most original of them all. The reason for this is the excellent ornamental interpretation of the ensemble, where they reached such effect in the scene without comparison both earlier and later. Secondly, the performance of the builders was outstanding, as they tried to achieve the maximum decorative effect with an architectonic reconsideration which was not risky. Thirdly, the already mentioned respect for the earlier buildings of the mosque. Fourthly, the fact that there were several Byzantine craftsmen in the capital who were expert in mosaics, which reflects the fluent relationships between Córdoba and Constantinople. And finally, the quality achieved in the design and carvings by the workshops in Medina Azahara.
The extension took place between the years 961-965. Caliph Al-Hakam II commissioned the direction of the works to his prime minister (hayib), Yafar Ibn Abd al-Rahman. On the inscriptions on the Mihrab we can read the names of other makers. This extension consisted of the lengthening of the 11 naves of the mosque towards the south, adding 12 more sections and a double wall of the qibla. It can be said that the extended space could be considered in itself a mosque inside the mosque. The previous qibla was substituted by strong polilobed horseshoe arches, acting as inner façade and indicating the visitor or Muslim that he / she is in a new architectonic area.
In the central nave, the arch at the entrance leads to a vaulted and square space, which serves as a skylight and was considered by the loyal Muslim as a sign marking the beginning of an area called maqsura, which was reserved only to the highest political and religious authorities. According to Islamic sources, this area was enclosed by a high fence made of carved wood and it was closed by a rich door covered in gold and silver, with ebony doorjambs. The skylight was surrounded by 3 sets of poly-lobed and interwoven arches, of which there are only 2 left: the southern and eastern ones - the third one disappeared when the Main Chapel of the Cathedral was built in the 15th century. The arches are displayed over a double order of columns of a different module: the higher order supports 3 horseshoe arches, while the lower order supports 3 lobed ones, corresponding to the arches that work as buttresses in the naves. Over the keystones of the lower arches there are series of lobes that interweave with each other to simulate arches, but their purpose is purely ornamental.
The roof consists of a vaulted ceiling formed by a dome with 8 ribs, which cross leaving a square space in the middle and triangular and rectangular ones around it. These spaces are decorated with small ribbed or lobed domes. The light comes in through a crown made of lobed-arched windows, which are opened on the wall between the ribs. This pattern is repeated, more perfectly, in the 3 skylights before the Mihrab, of which the central one is the most impressive one in the ensemble. We should highlight the rich tesseras, by Byzantine craftsmen, decorating the ribs in the dome. These tesseras, made in glass paste, are covered in gold or treated with bright colourings, alternating others made in marble.
As for the façade of the Mihrab, its skirting board has marble plaques decorated with Arabesque carvings. The central arch rests on doorjambs, where the columns of Abd al-Rahman II’s Mihrab were integrated. It is framed by an alfiz, whose spandrels are also decorated with Arabesque carvings. A frieze, acting as a kind of second alfiz, has inscriptions where Allah is praised on a blue mosaic. A series of blind polilobed arches finish the ensemble. The space that constitutes the Mihrab is the most sacred place in the mosque, as the sacred book of the Muslims is shown there. It has an octagonal floor and a skirting board made of marble plaques, above which there is a carved frieze, decorated with 5 blind polilobed arches and verses from the Koran. The ceiling is made of carved plaster in the shape of a shell.
The structure of the prayer hall is very similar to that of the Mihrab. The central nave was more richly decorated, according to its category. The shafts of the columns were carefully chosen, and they alternate marble and jasper with red and blue colours. At their top, they have capitals decorated with leaves, alternating Corinthian and composite orders. The ceiling at the macsura, with carved beams, is the richest in the mosque, and its restoration was carried out by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco in the second half of the 19th century.
Finally, three doors were opened on the western façade, which developed the example of the mentioned Door of the Viziers, although they were transformed due to the secular changes in the building: the central one, called Postigo de Palacio (Side Door of the Palace), is a recomposition in Gothic style; the side ones –Espíritu Santo (Holy Spirit) and San Ildefonso– were restored by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco. There are some remains of the doors in the eastern side which were found on the old exterior wall, integrated in the extension by Almanzor.
If you wish to know the extension commissioned by Caliph Al-Hakam II in the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, do not hesitate to hire one of our guided tours. We are experts in the interpretation of the historic heritage from Córdoba. If you have chosen to go sightseeing in Córdoba, choose a high quality option, choose ArtenCórdoba.
Text: Jesús Pijuán.