Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

On Monday we visited the most famous site in Córdoba, the Mezquita-Catedral. (Mezquita = mosque in Spanish). Here's a view from across the river...

One of the entrances to the site:

And another, with carved Latin inscriptions (probably replacing the original Arabic inscriptions):

And inside the complex in the Patio de Los Naranjos (Patio of Oranges):

The first building on this site was a Roman temple dedicated to Janus. The conquering Visigoths then erected a Christian church honouring Saint Vincent around about 600 AD. When the Moors conquered Córdoba in 711, they shared the church with the Christians for a while before buying them out and demolishing and replacing it with a mosque in 785. It was enlarged a few times before reaching its current dimensions within a hundred years or so. In 1236 the Christian conquerors converted it back into a Catholic Church, and started the renovations. Instead of destroying the mosque, they inserted a few chapels. In the 1300s the minaret was converted into a bell tower, and in the 1500s the centre was demolished and a Renaissance-style cathedral was inserted. The ruling monarch, Charles V is purported to have said "I have destroyed something unique in the world" when he saw the finished work. Through all this change, the Mihrab was conserved, and interestingly it isn't on the east side facing Mecca; rather it's on the south side. (See Wikipedia for more info!) 

The inside is incredible...

While Lloyd wandered around taking many pictures, I sat in one place for a while marvelling at all the changes that had taken place. It was fun to identify building materials from different eras, notably Roman columns and capitals that might have been salvaged from the original temple, probably used in the Visigoth church, and then in the mosque, and finally the cathedral. 

The juxtaposition of Islamic and Christian architecture was sometimes jarring and sometimes beautiful...

We were fortunate to be treated to an organist's practice session. I was able to sit about 15 m away from the pipes and enjoy familiar opening phrases from Bach as he worked out different settings.

As I wandered, I thought about the conflict between religious groups, and how wonderful it would be if they could co-exist, even worshiping in the same space. Well, apparently Spanish Muslims have been petitioning the Vatican for several years to be allowed to worship in the Mezquita again but have been denied. On Sunday our walking tour guide told us that the official name is no longer "Mezquita-Catedral". The "mezquita" was dropped about six months ago and it's now known as La Catedral de Córdoba. The pamphlet we received at the entrance is quite clear that this is "The Mother Church of the Diocese" with a history extending back to the Christian Visigoths, and during "The Islamic Intervention" the martyr's church of San Vincente was destroyed. The tone of the pamphlet verges on being disparaging, e.g. in describing "The Christian Transformation" after the reconquering of Córdoba in 1236, ..."the reforms of the Cathedral were motivated by...the inconvenience of celebrating the Liturgy amid a sea of columns." There is no mention of the original Roman temple on the site, nor any mention of the financial transaction between the early Muslims and Christians. Nonetheless, if the reconquering Christians had not taken this magnificent building as their cathedral, it would have likely deteriorated into rubble by now, like the ancient Roman and Greek temples.

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