As a curiosity we can mention the age-old question of the “erroneous orientation” of the miḥrāb (that is, the praying wall) here, which goes on unresolved until today. According to Islamic tradition the miḥrāb ought to be oriented towards Mecca, yet Córdoba’s, as several other early mosques’, faces elsewhere. Scholarship varies on the reason why (special requisites of the terrain, a quirk of the Umayyads…) but no explanation has convinced all within the field, so we will not try to resolve the matter here either.
Throughout our itinerary the first thing to call the attention of visitors at the Córdoba mosque is its vastness: with 1300 columns holding the world-renown 365 red-and-white arches, it all appears diaphanous, great. While sauntering the old part of the Mosque-Cathedral it will perhaps surprise us the lack of homogeneity among the columns’ base, shaft and capital, which is due to Muslims having utilized the ever-so-useful “spolia” (that is, reused building parts) in order to finish their work. Roman and Visigothic pieces from nearby sites were used, saving time and coin, so that the first mosque, the one of Abd al-Rahman I, could be built in about two years and finished by 787, just before the emir’s death.
Abd al-Rahman II (emir from 822 to 852) enlarged the mosque in two stages, albeit respecting the original naves. The columns added at this point lack base and, we now know, were brought from Mérida’s Roman theater profiting from the several raids the emir ordered against that city.
Al-Hakam II (caliph between 961 and 976) enlarged the mosque for the second time and created the most beautiful parts of the building we love today. The marble columns and capitals added at this stage were built specifically for the places were they still stand, the arches reach technical perfection and artisans from Byzantium are called to work on the mosaics. It is at this point that the miḥrāb we see today, considered one of the most beautiful the world over, is built.