EMPIRES OF KNOWLEDGE
In 711, the Moors began their rule of the Iberian Peninsula and their journey to carve out a legacy in Europe. Up until today, western development is viewed as the merge of knowledge between two of the great European civilisations; Greek and Roman with Christianity. There is a link disconnecting these civilisations from major developments in modern history. This link is the western Moorish Empire, which was responsible for the transfer of the knowledge translated in Baghdad and used it to connect a mercury of urban centres from North Africa to southern Europe. When the Moorish rulers first set foot in Córdoba, the city had already gained a reputation as a capital from Roman times. So, the ‘Jewel of the World’ was developed into a pageant of prosperity and intellect, with amenities Córdoba took for granted 700 years before Europe emerged from the shadow of the Dark Ages. The Emir of Córdoba, Abdel Rahman I, didn’t want to build great monuments. He wanted to build a capital that gleams like a pearl. His dream was to create a western outpost, which would become a great educational centre on par with Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo.
Inspired by the plethora of architectural wealth he left back east, the determined emir (or prince) began his journey by ordering the construction of a grand mosque on the same site as that of the Visigothic Christian church. The Great Mosque of Córdoba was the pediment of the new empire. Hence, it was lavished with intricate details that exceeded the limits of medieval thinking in Islamic art and architecture. Around 856 double horseshoe arched columns made from jasper, onyx, marble and granite crowned the hypostyle hall of the Great Mosque of Córdoba. The philosophy behind the inspiration is a mysterious desert metropolis in central Syria called Palmyra, or Tadmur. The legendary caravan city emerged around an ancient oasis, surrounded by a dense forest of palm trees. It was nicknamed the ‘City of a Thousand Pillars’, because of a grand one-kilometre colonnaded street, marking the monumental axis of the city. A procession of 750 columns with pedestals, which displayed the statutes of the merchants credited with the wealth of the town, framed each side of the promenade.
This influential commercial centre stood at the crossroads of several civilisations, and its heritage clutches strong influences of Graeco-Roman and Persian cultures. Palmyra is one of the most exquisite and elegant cities in Syria, with buildings constructed of a local pale gold limestone. Fundamentally, however, the double arches in the Great Mosque of Córdoba was a new technique of classic engineering, allowing higher ceilings than otherwise possible with low columns. And their alternating red and white voussoirs were inspired by those in the Dome of the Rock.
Up above on the ceiling are honey-combed domes decorated with a blue Byzantium mosaic called tesserae, and stars to represent the heavenly bodies. The entire mosque and its richly gilded prayer niches are adorned by intricate geometric designs, sensuous calligraphy conveying the holy words of the Koran, and symbolic motifs or arabesque. It is because Islam prohibited figural representation. So, when the architectural masterpiece was completed, it signified the birth of the Moorish dynasty which ruled over North Africa, Spain and parts of southern Italy for eight centuries.