Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Cathedral-Mosque of Córdoba

During the afternoon of our Córdoba day trip we got the chance to see the main attraction of the day, the building that everyone comes to see: the Cathedral of Córdoba, or the Mezquita.

If you have been following my blog you know that I have visited many cathedrals in Spain but this one is definitely the most impressive I have seen. It has an interesting history. It started off as a pagan temple, then became a church, then during the Muslim invasion it was turned into a mosque, then after the Muslims had gone it became a cathedral. But in order to understand the background of the place we have to look back to the town's history.

Córdoba is a very old city, by the time the Romans arrived in the 1st century there was already a city here. It became an important town during the Roman era and there are many monuments as a reminder such as the Roman Bridge or the mosaics in the Alcázar of Córdoba.

When the Muslims conquered this part of the country Córdoba became the capital of the Islamic Caliphate. As the Muslims were tolerant towards other religions such as Christians and Jews the town was thriving and according to Wikipedia by the 10th century it was the most populated city in the world and also the center of education. The Great Mosque of Córdoba was born during these amazing times.

When you walk in under the minaret that now serves as the bell tower the first thing you see is a courtyard. It is a Moorish ‘patio’ full of orange trees and fountains.

Then you finally step inside. The hypostyle prayer hall (the word means ‘filled with columns’) takes your breath away. The symmetrical arches make the space grow in front of your eyes. As soon as we stepped in Paul disappeared and went crazy taking photos of them. Here are his best ones.

The arches are made of red and white bricks and if you have a closer look you can see that the capitals of the columns are all different. This is because they were ‘stolen’ (or recycled, a question of perspectives) from old Christian churches from around the city.

The most important part of a mosque is the Mihrab or the prayer niche. This identifies the direction of Mecca. It is decorated with gold and other gorgeous colours. Even though it has such a high value for the Muslims nowadays there are public toilets behind it.

As the rulers changed they all added some bits and bobs to the Mosque. The biggest part was added by a kalif who wanted to add the most but didn’t want to spend much money  so in this part the arches only contain white bricks that they painted red to match the previous ones.

After Isabella and Ferdinand reconquered Córdoba in 1236 a Christian church was erected in its center. It looks very impressive and unique.

The most economical way to visit this amazing place is to get a free entry every morning from 8.30-10.00 except Sundays and Fiesta days. The church in the middle is off-limit this time but you can still have a look from the side. If you are not so lucky to get there at this time there's an 8 euro entry fee from 10.00 - 18.00, on Sundays and fiesta days shorter opening hours, no restricted areas. There's also a night visit for 18 euros. Check their website for details.

There are many opinions about whether it was a crime to ruin this architectural gem by sticking a Christian church into the middle or not. I am not entirely sure myself. However our guide, Rafael said something interesting that made me think and that is that so many other amazing Muslim buildings had been destroyed by the reconquering Christians. The fact that they made their mark on it also means that they didn’t destroy the Mosque but kept it for us, the later generation, to see.

The Great Mosque has an amazing history and great importance for both religions. Interestingly (and sadly) the Muslim minority across the whole of Spain have been petitioning for years to be able to pray here but are being consistently rejected by the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican.

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