D. Fairchild Ruggles



The Great Mosque of Cordoba: Fruited Trees and Ablution Fountains

The Great Mosque of Cordoba is justifiably famous, and its majestic architecture has attracted the attention of visitors who admired it in the Umayyad and later periods of Islamic rule in Spain (al-Andalus).

The mosque was built by the first Hispano-Umayyad emir, Abd al-Rahman I, beginning in 786 on the site of a Visigothic church. Sources relate that the burgeoning Muslim community first rented space in the church and then purchased the site, demolishing the church for the handsome new mosque. The mosque was expanded in the 9th and 10th centuries as the Muslim population grew. Upon the conquest of Cordoba in 13th century, the mosque was converted to a church, and in the 16th century, a cathedral replaced the central portion of the old prayer hall. Throughout these dramatic changes to the building, the courtyard remained with its trees – successive generations of palms and especially fragrant oranges, which require irrigation.

Sources indicate that the mosque courtyard was planted with fruit trees at least as early as the 9th century. Moreover, there are clear signs that from the very beginning, the mosque was built with hydraulics in mind, both to fill the ablution fountains and to nourish the courtyard plantings. Water was collected first by a simple catchment system that collected and funneled water from the roof gables into the courtyard, unseen from the ground. During the dry season, water was also brought by aqueduct that was an extension of a Roman aqueduct network, repaired in the Umayyad period. Through its intelligent harvesting of water, the mosque was linked to the larger environment of mountains, plain, river, and city.


D. Fairchild Ruggles is professor of art, architecture, and landscape history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and co-founder and co-director of the Collaborative for Cultural Heritage and Museum Practices. Her work focuses primarily on the gardens and architecture of Islamic Spain and South Asia, especially the close connections between garden-making, the irrigated agricultural landscape, and the power of the sovereign panoramic view. In recent years, she has contributed to the Heritage Trust of Baroda’s successfully nomination of the pilgrimage city Champaner-Pavagadh (India) as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the United States, she recently appeared in the PBS special documentary program, “Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain” (Gardner Films, 2007). Her current research projects are a volume of sources and documents on Islamic art and visual culture and a study of the history of arts patronage by women in the Islamic world.


Islamic Gardens and Landscapes (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming in 2007) Co-editor with Dianne Harris: Sites Unseen: Landscape and Vision (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007)

Co-editor with Robert Ousterhaut, “Encounters with Islam: The Medieval Mediterranean Experience,” special issue of Gesta, vol. 43/2 (2004)

Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000)

Editor, Women, Patronage, and Self-Representation in Islamic Societies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000)

Co-editor with Elizabeth Kryder-Reid: “Sight and Site in the Garden,” special issue of Journal of Garden History, vol. 14 (1994)

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