Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Postcard from Spain: Mezquita (mosque-cathedral) of Cordoba

A tourist sits by the wall of the Mezquita facing Calle de Torrijos, perhaps to ease sore feet or to find respite from the grueling rays of the summer sun.

Huge metallic doors like this one and arches reminiscent of structures in the Islamic world characterize this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Mezquita, inarguably the gem of Cordoba, is one landmark that shouldn’t be missed when you are in Andalucia in south of Spain.

What is so fascinating about this place is that this used to be a mosque sometime in the 8th century. Well actually, the site has gone through a lot for the faithful Cordobese -- a worship place for pagans, a Visigothic Christian church, and then a mosque, and then a Catholic church after King Fernando reclaimed the Moorish parts of Spain sometime in the 1200s.

Locals told me during my visit during the Summer of 2010 that even after the Spanish reconquista, the Christians found the mosque to be too beautiful to be destroyed. Then known as the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which was said to be very much similar to the Great Mosque of Damascus, the place was given importance in Andalucia during the reign of the moors. And so when the Christians took over, it was decided to just build a Christian church while preserving some of the elements of the mosque.

Now, the Mezquita-Catedral (Mosque-Cathedral), is known as the Cathedral of the Our Lady of the Assumption (Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in Spanish).

But even after the reconquista, European moors have made appeals to the Catholic church to allow them to pray there, only to be rejected for several times. And in April 2010, just a couple of months before I went to Cordoba, I was told that two Muslim tourists were arrested for praying inside the Cathedral!

The beauty of the Mezquita is evident from the outside, with the walls that form the fortification of the church being lined with arches that can only be seen in the Islamic world (something similar to those that I’ve seen when I went to Morocco in the same year).

Inside the cathedral, halls are lined with arches with red and white stripes supported by jasper and marble pillars, which locals said are patterned after the towering palm trees in the Middle East.

Take note that these kind of arch can also found in other churches in Europe, like the ones at the duomo of Santa Maria Assunta in Pisa, Italy (which, as the suggests, is also dedicated to the Our Lady of the Assumption), and the walls facing the via degli Avelli side of the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy (although this has nothing to do with Islamic art BUT probably influenced).

Click HERE to read the entry on the Santa Maria Assunta in Pisa, Italy.

It could be really overwhelming inside while walking along the arch-lined halls of the church, but don’t forget to check out the main altar with the high ceiling and the retablo with Renaissance paintings.

Some arches also have frescoes as in other Baroque churches in Europe and in the Philippines, perhaps an assertion that the place is already owned by Christians.

At the patio of the church, visitors can relax by the fountains in the middle of orange trees and savor the fresh air before continuing their walk by the Guadalquivir River.

Arches inside Mezquita-Catedral of Cordoba painted with frescoes.

Tip sheet:
- The Mezquita is just a walk going to Rio Guadalquivir and the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge).

- Entrance to the Mezquita costs around 8 euros for adults and 4 euros for kids. I think it’s worth the fee, since you really go to Cordoba mainly for this. Entrance to the courtyard with the orange trees, Patio de los Naranjos, is free.

- There are souvenir shops around the Mezquita, but I think there are more choices that can also be cheaper at La Judaria (Jewish Quarter).

- And oh, when at the Judaria, don’t forget to sample Cordobese delicacies!