..........a blog about food, travel, gardening, and living the good life in Arizona.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cordoba, a tribute to God

I fell in love with this beautiful city -- its narrow streets, secluded patios and bubbling fountains; quiet spaces filled with the scent of jasmine and gardenia. The impressive structures of La Mezquita, Roman ruins and Christian monuments are scattered throughout this city -- the stamps of conquering forces of the past and a stark reminder of their conflicting religious beliefs.

Cordoba's La Mezquita was the major draw for us... second only to the grandeur of Granada's Alhambra, the differences are easy to discern. The Alhambra is a palace and La Mezquita is a mosque/cathedral. As a palace, the Alhambra has many gardens, water features, and artistically designed spaces just for relaxation and reflection. La Mezquita on the other hand is a space designed for large-scale worship; it can hold as many as 25,000 people at one time. It is so massive, its walls are taller than the modern surrounding buildings while its footprint encompasses several city blocks. Along its walls are large doors that open into the Naranjos Courtyard (the Orange Tree Courtyard). This area is free to the public to stroll about and enjoy the orange trees; over 100 grow here. Entrance to the interior of the mosque/cathedral is 8 Euro and well worth the experience.

The interior of La Mezquita is darker than these photos suggest but there are side galleries that have additional light from windows and electrical lighting. The columns that hold the red and white striped arches are dark gray up to about a man's height... the grime of human hands touching them over the ages? I don't know.

As we strolled around the interior, I wondered if 7th c. women were allowed to worship in this holy place or was it just for men? I did a little research and learned that Umar, the ruler of Islam at the time, tried to restrict women's access to the mosque but failed. He settled for segregated worship services for men and women which is the standard today. Prior to his rule, women held the same status as men participating in politics, art, philosophy and religion, even battle.

In one area of the mosque, there is a glass floor that lights an area below ground; it displays part of a mosaic floor of the original Christian church upon which this mosque was built. A gentle reminder that this sacred space was Christian in origin built by Visigoths in the 5th c. in honor of St. Vincent. Afterward, Muslims ruled here for 500+ years and built this amazing mosque. Then in the 13th c., Christians again retook the city and built their cathedral right smack dab in the middle of La Mezquita.

The cathedral is almost gaudy compared to the mosque... lots of gold and towering carved ceilings typical of the Gothic style of the time. The ceiling designs are remarkable; we are still trying to figure out how the craftsmen managed their installation.

Close to La Mezquita are several small hotels catering to the masses of tourist that visit here every day. Large tour groups from all over the world, young people with backpacks, and lone tourists enjoying the peace and beauty of this glorious city. We stayed at one of these small hotels that had a classic courtyard garden off the lobby where we spent some quiet time contemplating the history of this place and thanking our lucky stars we were able to have this experience.

Antonio Munoz Molina (an Andalusian by birth) said it best:

"Cordoba is not a decadent town... one of those haughty cities languishing in its own past, in which life becomes stifled (...) it maintains its own elegant poise, made of the web of dreams and the substance of time itself...; there are places here which seem to contain the entire essence of the universe hidden and untouched." 

Sort of heavy, I know, but aptly describes the feeling of this place... in a word, magical.

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