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Notes on the Geography of Spain: Cordoba: the Mesquita: Photo 15

world pictures Spain: Cordoba: the Mesquita

The mihrab is shown here at an angle to hint at the opulence of the maksurah. 

The mihrab in other mosques is built in a wall perpendicular to the qibla, or direction of Mecca: the faithful can face the mihrab and not have to worry about whether they are praying in the right direction.  Cordoba, though, is a rare exception to the rule.  Some authors state this as a fact and leave it inscrutable.  Others explain that the mosque's builders were the last of the Ummayads, driven from Damascus.  The qibla they adopted points not in the direction of Mecca, therefore, but in the direction of Mecca from Damascus.  Rather than pointing east by southeast, prayers here were offered to the south, as though the Ummayads had never left home.

Al-Makkari seems to agree with this interpretation.  He writes that at the time of the second expansion (which included construction of the present mihrab) the mosque's builders were at a quandary "respecting the part of the horizon towards which the kiblah was to be turned; some pretending that it ought to be built facing the south, as it was formerly, and as his father, An-Nassir, had done..., while mathematicians and astronomers contended that it ought to be built inclining a little towards the east." The matter was settled when a scholar approached al-Hakem and said "O Prince of the believers! all the people of this nation have constantly turned their faces to the south while making their prayers... Remember that proverb which says, 'It is preferable to follow the example of others and be saved, than to perish by separating from the track.'"  The caliph replied, "By Allah, thou sayst right!"

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