In case you didn’t know, Cordoba has a famous mosque. It’s that one with all those red and white arches. It’s there because, for around 500 years, the Moorish Muslims occupied most of southern Spain.
They’d first sneaked in from North Africa, through Gibraltar, in 711AD. This was of course before we Brits had taken control of Gibraltar, had we been running things back then it might have been a different matter. Feckless and sloppy customs control by the Spanish was to blame. A large group of heavily armed Moors, wearing turbans and speaking Arabic, attracted no attention whatsoever. Their cover story of them heading for a camel breeding conference in Madrid wasn’t even questioned.
Once they’d made it through customs they ditched their duty-free fags, pulled out their scimitars, and started the serious business of conquering Spain. Within 25 years they’d taken pretty much all of it and they were having a go at France too. Fortunately the French authorities were a little more organised and the Moors’ plot was rumbled after they were stopped on a main road for not carrying a spare set of light bulbs, a warning triangle and a fluorescent vest for each of the 76,000 members of their party.
The Christians in the North had started to fight back. This was mostly because, under Muslim control, Benidorm had gone dry and even back then it was a popular European stag weekend destination. In 1066 William the Conqueror had to organise a staggy in Hastings instead, for his best mate ‘Ten Bellies Pierre’. They drunk the place dry and it all kicked off when they were refused admittance to ‘Hooters’.
The ‘Reconquista’ of Spain by the Christians was mostly successful and by the time Ten Bellies Pierre was being by handcuffed to a lamppost in Hastings, bollock naked apart from a pair of false breasts, they’d pushed the Muslims back to Andalucia in Southern Spain. You can watch the highlights of the Reconquista of Spain at this Match of the Day replay (click here).
The Muslims hung on to Andalucia for a while and the Reconquista took a bit of a break for a few hundred years. This was for everyone to catch their breath and enjoy the half-time Seville oranges. It wasn’t until 1492 that Granada, the last outpost of the Muslims, finally fell to the Christians. This was an auspicious year for Cordoba too.
Christopher Columbus had met with the King and Queen at the Royal Palace in Cordoba in 1492 and convinced them they should fund an exploratory voyage. He promised them he’d come back with gold, spices and loads of knick-knacks. Queen Isabella was a keen collector of knick-knackery and was eager to fill up the few remaining spaces on their mantelpiece. King Ferdinand rolled his eyes, but handed over the cash to Columbus anyway, just to stop her going on about it.
Columbus then went on to discover the New World by mistake. Apparently he was using a Muslim method of navigating by the stars. Whichever disgruntled Muslim told him how to do it probably gave him the directions to the edge of the world rather than any land mass.
The world did have an ‘edge’ back then by the way, it wasn’t officially spherical until the 1960s when we had nice pictures from spacecraft to prove it. This was the major benefit to be gained from the space programme as ships could now keep on going all the way round, instead of having to plan their routes to avoid the edge.
So this is why there is so much Muslim architecture in Andalucia in southern Spain, it was the first place they entered and the last place they left. The mosque in Cordoba was converted to a Catholic cathedral in 1236, when the city fell to the Christians. This continued use of the building did have the positive effect of retaining the original and glorious Moorish architecture, but all the delicate and elegant Islamic decoration is now interspersed with all the gloomy doomy paraphernalia of the Catholic religion.
Still, it did give Queen Isabella more space for her knick-knacks and King Ferdinand could reconquista the palace mantelpiece for his collection of model ships and cock rings.