We stayed over night in Seville so that we could drive inland today through miles and miles of olive groves to Córdoba. It’s good we’re not here in the summer when daily temperatures average in the 110’s. We were warned to beware of gypsies, waiting to tell you your fortune for much more than you are prepared to pay. Supposedly they migrated here from India hundreds of years ago and many live on the margins of society. We could see them standing around in groups holding sprigs of rosemary in their hands. If they hand you one and you take it, your wallet magically opens. If they get too close to you, it could be gone altogether.
During the Middle Ages Córdoba was the undisputed center of civilization and the most populous city in the world. While it’s been a millennium since its glory days, it retains enough evidence of these times to feel like a living history book. The main reason for our pilgrimage today was the Mezquita, another one of those buildings that words and pictures cannot do justice. This building started as a Christian church, but when the Moors came to town in 758, they knocked it down and built a magnificent mosque. It was the second largest in the world, second only to Mecca.
The work of building the resplendent Mezquita employed thousands of artisans and labourers, and such a vast undertaking led to the development of many nearby resources. Hard stone and beautifully veined marble were quarried from the surrounding regions of the city. Metals of various kinds were mined, and factories sprang up in Córdoba amid the stir and bustle of an awakened industrial energy. A famous Syrian architect made the plans for the mosque. Leaving his own house on the edge of Córdoba, the Emir came to reside in the city, so that he might personally supervise the operations and offer proposals for the improvement of the designs. In planning the mosque, the architects incorporated a number of Roman columns older than the mosque. Ivory, jasper, porphyry, gold, silver, copper, and brass were used in the decorations. Marvellous mosaics were designed. Panels of scented woods were fastened with nails of pure gold, and the red marble columns were said to be the work of God.
When Córdoba fell again to the Christians, King Ferdinand did not want to destroy such a magnificent building, but decided to repurpose it as a church once again, a 250 year job. The red and white striped arches were on the outside walls inside of the mosque on all four sides, but the entire middle space was empty except for lights. This was where the Moslems had put down rugs and prayed. This open center was where the Christians built an altar and in the Renaissance this church within a mosque was completed with a wooden carved choir area, two huge organs with horns projecting the music out into the huge space, and golden main and side altars. When you stand in this space, you lose all sense of being in a mosque at all. No matter where we looked, we saw a mix of symbolism between the two religions. If only these two religions could live in such proximity to one another in peace today.