On Friday, Jared and I took an overnight jaunt to Córdoba to see the legendary Mezquita-Catedral. We had a great time and made some friends, but I will recap that all tomorrow – first I thought I’d share our photos from the main attraction. The Mezquita (mosque) portion of the structure was constructed and refined from the 8th to the 10th century and was comprised (at the height of its glory) of 1293 columns, and had open doorways to keep the interior filled with light and worshipers in touch with the outside world. When Ferdinand III conquered Córdoba in 1236, he converted the mosque into a church but left the majority of the structure alone and set up a small chapel in one corner (look in the slideshow for the arches that are painted over with christian imagery). Then in 1523, King Charles V ordered that an enormous chapel be built smack dab in the center of the Mezquita at the behest of Córdoba’s bishop (and in spite of protests from the town council).
And there began the controversy of this place. On one hand, the fact that this world-famous mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral is an enormous middle finger in the face of Islam, and you can’t help but feel that you are visiting something that was once extraordinary but is now irrevocably marred. On the other hand, my old friend Rick Steves brings up the excellent point that it would have been much easier to raze the mosque and build from scratch, so the cathedral in the center actually assured the mosque’s preservation. I also agree with him that current hodgepodge provides an interesting study in the differences between the two religions, and for us it was the most stark example of the melding of Islam and Christianity that we have seen so much in Spain.
To further my conflicted feelings about the place, we visited during Catholic Mass. We were unusually ambitious and got up early Saturday morning so that we could get in for free during Mass (you must arrive before 10AM), which I would highly recommend not only because you save the €8 pp entrance fee, but it’s also pretty incredible to experience the space during worship of any kind. Hearing the booming organ music and Latin singing informed my imagination [ironically] on what it must have been like to experience Muslim prayer here. At first it just felt wrong to be listening to a Catholic Mass, but when it was over I realized how alive the sound had made the space, and I was thankful that we had been able to experience the acoustics and presence of the structure in that way.
It’s a conflicted spot, but that made it so much more attractive to me. Obviously history is never black and white, and visiting places that bring out these conflicts and inspire such reflection is one of my favorite parts of travel.