Wednesday, May 4, 2011

April Holiday: Spain: Cordoba (the Mezquita)

Almost done, I promise!
On Friday, the day after we had been to the Alhambra, we packed up and headed to Cordoba.  This was possibly the place I was the most excited about going on our entire trip.  In senior year, I had chosen to do a senior project on Islamic geometry and the history of the Cordoba Caliphate - the period of Muslim rule in Spain.  My project advisor and I spent hours looking at photos of the Mezquita and reading Arabic poetry about the structure of the universe.  We read about the culture of tolerance for the other "peoples of the book" that was destroyed in the Spanish Inquisition.  We talked about the Greek works translated into Arabic and brought back to Europe and about the origins of flamenco.  I wrote a paper on the mosque, or the Mezquita.  And to actually see it was incredible.
We visited the Mezquita on Saturday, and it took my breath away.  Thousands of red-and-white striped double arches stretching into infinity in the hugeness of the space.  There was none of the intricate stucco-work or zellij we saw at the Alhambra or in Fes - this was a kind of grandeur and simplicity I'd never seen before.
Nothing really prepares you for going in.  The vaulted ceilings and the arches make the space feel huge - I've been in an awful lot of churches with vaulted ceilings and stained glass reaching to the sky, but I've never felt so small in a building in my entire life.  There were easily a thousand people or more in the mosque, but it was easy to feel like you were maybe the only one there.
The Mezquita was built on what had once been a Visigoth Cathedral, which had been built on the site of a Roman temple, which had been built on what some believe to be a holy pagan site with standing stones.  The Ummayads, who built the mosque, borrowed heavily from the Roman ruins around Cordoba (which had once been a Roman outpost), taking capitals and columns and even the arches from aqueducts.  When they expanded the mosque and had no more Roman capitals and columns, they fake-antiqued some of their materials to look like they had come from Roman sites.  Even the red-and-white stripe pattern on the arches - done in alternating shades of brick - was inspired by the vestiges of Roman architecture.
Have you been to Cordoba?  Do you want to go?  Did you visit the Mezquita?

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