Works by Abd al-Rahman III
Although his constructive activity was mainly dedicated to the palatial city of Medina Azahara, the first Umayyad caliph, Abd al-Rahman III (912-961), did not neglect the Aljama Mosque of Córdoba. Thus, we should highlight his work in two aspects: the remodelling of the retaining wall on the courtyard façade and the building of the new minaret.
The old minaret by Hisham I was demolished in the year 951 and the new one was opened in 952, although some authors mention an earlier date, the year 946. The minaret, whose structure is located inside the belfry of the current Cathedral of Córdoba, was built with stones arranged in headers and stretchers. It was a 8.5-metre square prism and it was originally 47 meters high. The construction was even longer due to the yamur, a mast with 3 big golden and silver spheres and others which were smaller displayed in descending order. At the top, a lilly and a small golden pomegranate finished the ensemble. The elevation of the minaret had 2 sections, longer than the first one and crowned by a battlement terrace, and the one at the top, narrower and covered by a hemispherical dome.
In the first section there were two series of windows with horseshoe arches over columns, geminated those at the front and with three openings those on the sides. On the third higher part, there was a frieze with blind arches on both sides. The upper part was used as rooms for the muezzins, in charge of summoning the believers to prayer and it had a horseshoe-arched door on each façade. The inside was divided in 2 halves separated by a wall that went along the main section, thus forming two independent stairways, with access through the courtyard and the street, respectively.
This double ascent, unique characteristic of the minaret from Córdoba, was considered by Arabic chroniclers of the time a symbol of its quality, and it can be explained as a way of highlighting the superiority and legitimacy of the Umayyad caliph from Córdoba over the Abbasid caliphate in Bagdad. However, Félix Hernández considers that the shape of Abd al-Rahman III’s minaret is due to the poor skills of the architect in charge, as he had only 13 months to finish a tower which was much bigger than the one by Hisham I, solving the problems of the inside as best as he could.
The remodelling of the prayer hall façade finished in the year 958, and it was a liberated slave, Abd Allah Ibn Badr, who was in charge of it, according to an inscription on the Arch of the Blessings, the door opening to the central nave. This work was caused by the loss of verticality in the courtyard wall of the Mosque, which was pushed by the pressure from the inside arches. A thick wall was added to act as a buttress, which contained 11 horseshoe arches similar to those previously present in this area. These arches were held by marble columns with capitals decorated with leaves, typical of the time of the caliphs, which remind to those from the classical period, either Corinthian or composite order.
The wall, completely recoated in stucco, was decorated with geometrical patterns and pieces alternating two colours: white and red. Some of these pictures are still preserved. The façade has a small roof at the top, supported by corbels that were originally round modillions decorated with a stripe of plants and geometrical motifs carved in plaster. The whole ensemble, including the arches, has experienced some alterations: the latticework from the western arches of the courtyard was made by the architect Rafael de la Hoz Arderius (1924-2000) in 1972, and the discordant glass wall next to the arch of the gallery was placed in the year 2001.
If you are wondering what to visit in Córdoba, the best option would be the Mosque-Cathedral, choosing one of our guided tours. This way you will learn all you need to know about the works carried out by Abd al-Rahman III in the building. Choosing to do high quality sightseeing is choosing ArtenCórdoba.
Text: Jesús Pijuán.