Cordoba, The Mezquita, and Sharing Sacred Spaces
(Yes, it is Christmas Eve, and my part of the preparations are all done. AdventureMan is cooking a duck for the family dinner tonight, the Gulf Coast jumbo shrimp is all cooked and shelled and de-veined, the Rotkohl spicing up the kitchen, the salads and side dishes ready to go. 🙂 I have time, oh, the great luxury of time, to write . . . )
When we lived in Amman, we often went to Syria. I went once with an archaeological group, visiting several sites in the bleak cold of the Syrian winter. One site I didn’t see a lot of hope for, the site of St. Simon the Stylite, a hermit who sat atop a pillar and was considered holy. In truth . . . I scoffed.
I scoffed until I reached that isolated hilltop, and saw the giant pillar, and felt how very cold it was as the icy wind blew. We were there two or three hours. I had to confront my unwillingness to believe and the fact that with every zinging atom in my body, I could feel that this was a sacred place. Saint Simon chose a weird sort of sacrificial life, but in God’s eyes, I suspect it mattered. I know visiting that site changed me, and changed my ideas about sacred spaces.
Today, I get to write about a visit to another sacred space, a space you can feel resonating from the moment you enter, the Mezquita.
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It’s early breakfast for the Smithsonian group, and then we check our whisper guides and board our bus en route to Cordoba.
Traveling with a group is a novelty for us. It means using an alarm clock to be at scheduled breakfast and getting on a bus for a 2 hour drive. On our own, we wake when we wish – usually early, but not so early as with this group. We are not usually at a breakfast with a lot of people looking for food at the same time. We are not used to coffee makers that make one cup of coffee at a time while a 100 people line up for coffee. These are things that are not normal in our experience. We might find a local small store, pick up some water and some small snacks, and hit the road, stopping here and there to take a photo or just savor a view, have some water, soak in the fresh air. On the other hand, these bus drivers know where to go and there is no getting lost trying to find the right route out of town.
En route to Cordoba, most of the jet lagged Smithsonian group slept. Wide awake, I watched as acres and acres of olive groves and wind farms passed by. We saw an ancient fortification on the side of a hill that had a view to die for – 270 degrees plus of visibility.
It is raining once again as we arrive in Cordoba, but almost immediately it stops, and by the time our group has walked up the hill by the Mezquita, the sun is out and the day shows great promise. Cordoba is beautiful. Everywhere you look is some exquisite detail. Cordoba is a treat for the eyes.
Even the police are polite and helpful, directing tourists to where they need to go:
Art Nouveau bench:
Flower pots on the stucco walls:
Tourists coming up to The Mezquita:
Masques in a local art shop:
Finely wrought silver filigree jewelry:
At one point, we had a choice: Do we go shopping or do we have lunch in a highly rated local place? I bet we could do both, and we opted for lunch – more on that to come. At the end of lunch, we had only ten minutes to shop and not enough time to get back to this wonderful shop. I won’t call it a regret; lunch was a wonderful experience . . . and I do love filigree, and this artisan had beautiful silver filigree . . .
Ben Maimonaides, a Jewish scholar and ethicist, with wide influence. This was a continuing theme on the entire trip, that the interaction between Jew, Christian and Moslem in this period led to a great leap in ideas and artistry. The interaction was like pollination; science and the arts and mathematics and medicine bloomed.
I wonder if this is happening today, as Moslems, Jews and Christians study together in universities, to they interact and inspire one another? Is it possible that in spite of dire political headlines, under the radar, people are learning to cooperate and collaborate in the interest of a better world?
(Wikipedia: Aside from being revered by Jewish historians, Maimonides also figures very prominently in the history of Islamic and Arab sciences and is mentioned extensively in studies. Influenced by Avicenna (c. 980 – 1037), Averroes (1126–1198) and Al-Farabi (ca. 872–950/951), he in his turn influenced other prominent Arab and Muslim philosophers and scientists. He became a prominent philosopher and polymath in both the Jewish and Islamic worlds.
Bulls everywhere, LOL
An artistic courtyard
Love the little blue pots, and love the people who take care of them!
After our walking tour of Cordoba central, we gather in the gardens while our guide goes to pick up our tickets to take us inside the Mezquita, built as a mosque, becoming a cathedral after 1492.
Did I mention we learned two major dates on this trip: 711, when Tariq crosses into Spain (Jebal Tariq . . . Gibraltar) and 1492? Americans know 1492 as the year “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety two, but 1492 is the year that the Moslems were driven out of Spain, weeping at the loss of Andalusia, Al-Andalus.
When the Moslems were driven out of Cordoba, the huge, beautiful mosque, Al Mesquite, was not destroyed, but recycled, repurposed, space holy to one faith became holy to another. I love it that the original mosque, with its spectacular soaring arches and inspirational proportions, was recognized, and re-utilized. Holy space is holy space. We worship the same God. We saw the shrine to John the Baptist in the Grand Ummayad Mosque in Damascus; why should we not share holy spaces?
This is what you see immediately upon entering the Mezquita – a gorgeous kind of meshrabiyya covering the windows, patterning the light as it enters, keeping the harsh heat out and shrinking light in star like patterns across the floor.
The interior of this mosque/cathedral takes my breath away. It was crowded with tourists, but it just swallowed them up and maintained its sacred integrity. We could wander off and still hear our guide, thanks to this whisper-technology, where we all had headphones and our guide could broadcast. This was a place where I needed to wander off and experience it on my own, but felt some responsibility not to get too far afield from the group. I didn’t want to be a pain in the neck for the guide. And I also didn’t want to be a part of the group within this structure. It’s a problem.
Just look at these spaces:
I’ve always had a thing about light fixtures, LOL, I probably should own a lamp show except I would only stock what I like and I would have a hard time selling anything in the shop. Guess it’s just a good thing for me to admire light fixtures and not to have to manage them.
The beautiful Mihrab (points you in the direction of worship in a mosque) from the original mosque:
The Christian altar built in a structure added to the original mosque:
With a piece depicting King Ferdinand holding a globe:
As the tour ended, our tour guide warned us that we had only an hour and a half for lunch, so not to go to a restaurant, just find something quick, or shop, and BE BACK ON THE MEETING PLACE AT TWO!
We had seen a restaurant we wanted to try, so raced to it. We hate being rushed, and part of the fun of traveling is trying new kinds of food in new places!
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