Saturday, April 14, 2007

Cordoba: to mass at the mosque

Roman aqueduct in Seville

Just back from Seville and Cordoba.
The Mezquita in Cordoba is something you have to see before you die.  It’s a mosque, mezquita being mosque in Spanish.  Except it’s not a mosque it’s a cathedral, because when Cordoba was conquered by the Christian king in 1236 (by which time the building was already 450 years old) he dedicated it as a church the following day, and Islam was banned.  So to this day the Cordobans say “I’m going to mass at the mosque”.  Eileen who is Catholic didn't like it, said it still felt like a mosque, ought to have been left as one, and she couldn’t bring herself to light a candle there.  
I'll go back there one day but not until the scaffolding for the renovation work is removed, which obstructed the views down the aisles of arches.
The conversion of the mosque to a Christian church contrasts with the way the Muslims behaved, when they conquered the city from the Visigoths in 711.  They purchased the cathedral from the Christians for a fair price and allowed them to build churches elsewhere.  This is not a biased view by the way as it comes out of the official guide book ! 
The Renaissance cathedral was plonked down in the middle of the mosque, a large portion of which was demolished to accommodate it.  An act of cultural vandalism on a grand scale, an assessment which the Emperor Charles V agreed with. The canons of the cathedral badgered him to be allowed do this, and at first he resisted but at length assented.  Possibly at that time he had never seen the Mezquita.  He did however visit when the work for the cathedral was well advanced and he said to the canons: “You could have built your cathedral anywhere, yet you have destroyed something that is unique in the world.“
Colonades in Mezquita. Better than when we were there! No scaffolding!
Aerial view showing the Renaissance cathedral set in the midst of the Mezquita (Wikipedia)
I've included the photo of the Seville aqueduct to draw attention to how the double arches in the Mezquita are suggestive of the design of the aqueduct.  I wonder if the aqueduct was still functioning when the Muslims arrived in 711?