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Researchers Recreate Acoustic History of Cordoba Mosque

CORDOBA – Researchers from the Higher Technical School of Architecture at the University of Seville, Spain are recreating the acoustic history of Cordoba Mosque through virtual simulation to know the sounds that filled the air centuries ago, Eurekalert reported on November 5.

“Faced with the visual homogeneity of the mosque’s interior, the results we obtained allow us to confirm that the sound perception varies by area,” explained Archaeoacoustics professor Juan José Sendra.

“This is due to the successive expansions that the worship house has experienced during its history.”

Since many cultures explored through archaeology were focused on the oral and therefore the aural, it’s becoming increasingly recognized that studying the sonic nature of parts of archaeology can enhance our understanding.

“The mosque, founded by Abd al-Rahman the 1st, responded acoustically to Muslim liturgical requirements, providing a living space that favored their majesty. Later expansions gave a formal appearance of superposition on the pre-existing space,” Sendra informed.

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He further continued that “however, the notable sound difference was produced in the interior space. This, united with the increase in depth caused by the expansion of Abd al-Rahman II, meant a reduction in the acoustic quality of the areas furthest away from the Qiblah wall.”

The study found that with the expansion of Al-Hakam II, two acoustically juxtaposed mosques were obtained.

The last lateral expansion, by Al-Mansur, in which even the Mihrab was decentered with respect to the new layout, was separated from the rest of the building, with a clear degradation in the quality of verbal communication.

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The scientists added that the Christian transformations of the mosque after the Reconquista War have substantially modified the Muslim space.

Therefore, the modern-day space of the mosque is a “complex architectural unit,” with a multiplicity of sound spaces, the fruit of all the spatial transformations that have taken place, each different according to the spatial archetype, be it Muslim or Christian.

The research group “Architecture, Heritage and Sustainability: Acoustics, Lighting, Optics, and Energy” has spent more than a decade working in archaeoacoustics.

In recent years, they’ve studied acoustics in Seville, Granada, Malaga, Cordoba, and Jaen.

Specifically, in the case of Seville Mosque-Cathedral, articles have been published that have analyzed both the acoustic-spatial variety of the cathedral space, as well as the influence certain special spatial configurations have had on its acoustics, for example, when there is a big concert, or of the temporary architectural features present for certain religious celebrations.

Currently, they are also working on publishing a book that intends to de-codify the complex and fragmented space of the Mosque-Cathedral today, via analysis of its process of evolution from the first mosque of Abd al-Rahman the 1st until the present day, with the aim of recovering a lost sound memory.

There are nearly 1.3 million Muslims in Spain, making up 3 percent of the country’s 45 million population.

Muslims ruled much of Spain for centuries starting from 711 to 1492. Their last king was defeated by the Catholic king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492.

After that Muslims mosques were either left to ruin or converted into churches.