Cordoba’s Mezquita-Citedral – Andalusia, Spain (21.06.15)
Perhaps it was something to do with Ramadan starting, but I felt a certain spiritual stirring this week when visiting Cordoba’s Mezquita-Citedral, one of the world’s most significant places of worship for both Muslims and Christians.
Located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Historical City of Cordoba, the Mosque and Cathedral date back to the 8th century. I was lucky enough to have the chance to visit while moderating at the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) Travel Conference.
Enjoying the charms of this remarkable but relatively under-visited city, I like so many visitors to Cordoba before me, made my way through the Old City maze of streets towards the Mezquita-Citedral. At the time of the original Moorish conquest Cordoba was one of Europe’s most prestigious cities, rivalling Constantinople, Damascus, Baghdad and Byzantium and unparalleled at the time for its knowledge and creativity in the arts, sciences and culture.
To this day it is regarded as one of Europe’s most impressive historical cities, with its famous mosque and equally spellbinding inner Cathedral. I felt I had entered a massive Aladdin’s Cave the moment I walked across the outer Patio de Los Naranjos into the inner sanctum.
I was immediately drawn in to the heart of the building and then pulled in different directions by the surrounding glistening-gold chapels, the centuries-old floor inscriptions and armies of terracotta coloured pillars and arches which sweep away into the softly lit distance. The feeling is further accentuated by multi-coloured tinkerbell rays of sunlight streaming from the simply shaped stained glass windows.
After seeing the outer columned areas that make up the vast extensions of the original mosque, I sat on sturdy mahogany benches, as well as the giant cool stone floor areas, watching as the vast area before me stretched into the considerable distance. Visitors, worshippers and tourist groups soon blended into the calm silence all around.
Seated under the 10th century marble arches and exotic ceilings, I listened to my audio-guide, appalled at how little I had known about Cordoba and its most famous of buildings. I soon discovered the true significance of all before me, through stories stretching back from the time when the Romans originally founded Tartesic Corduba in the 2nd century.
Wandering between the symmetry of the striped arches, held aloft by over 850 marble pillars, I discovered the Mihrab. Which, facing Mecca, has an undulating floor where millions of worshippers over the centuries have crowded into the Hall of Mirrors-esque setting. The area is ready for the Iman’s Call to Prayer and has been re-arranged to accommodate over 15,000 worshippers as far back as the early 13th century.
Arriving in the centre of the vast structure, you come across the Renaissance Cathedral, consecrated in 1236 when Alfonso X built the Villaviciosa Chapel. The Cathedral’s two ornate mahogany Verdiquier pulpits stare across at the intricate baroque mahogany choir stalls, which are in turn, positioned under two huge music organs, across from the original gold coloured altar eagle.
After drifting the afternoon away within the ancient structure of the Mosque and Cathedral, I came out through the orange grove outer-courtyard to climb the 93m high Bell Tower. This offered terrific views across the historic city to the hills beyond, as late evening storm clouds gathered.
A special week indeed. As the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims embark on one of the Five Pillars of Islam (Sawm) – the annual observance of Ramadan – I felt privileged to experience the legendary multi-coloured pillars of Cordoba Mosque and Cathedral.