Like Stepping Back in Time
By: Tevia Pollard (Princeton University)
Stepping into the mosque in Cordoba was like stepping back in time. You could instantly feel the presence of two distinct peoples working to construct and beautify the structure over a period of many years. You could imagine the amount of religious ceremonies and daily prayers that had taken place in that vast building. When you first walk onto the premises of the place of worship, you are first struck by the sheer size of the property. Cordoba is not a big city, and the mosque seems to take over the available land area. We were given directions to our hotel from the mosque because it is such a focal point in the town. There is never a point when it is completely out of view.
After the initial shock of the size of the building in relation to the town has left, visitors can begin to appreciate the beautiful architecture constructed in the Islamic tradition. The gardens are gorgeous and vast, arches and geometric shapes feature heavily and a minaret is always in view. It is not until you step inside that you realize that this building is now a functioning cathedral and Catholic church. Inside the Muslim architecture continues and even the mihrab, the focal point of prayer in the direction of Mecca, has been preserved. However, once you reach the center of the structure, you begin to note the opulence and grandioseness of the Catholic church. Before reaching the altar, signals of a change in culture become apparent, such as the use of the cross, the presence of saints, and sculptures of cherubs. The Catholic church sits directly in the center of the remaining structure of the mosque, and the coexistence of the two cultures is truly breathtaking.
It is important to remember that this coexistence is in fact an indicator of historical significance, providing evidence of the Reconquista. The Catholics reclaimed this structure from the Muslims, and as it was customary during this period, converted their house of worship. Although this practice is a common feature of history, I could not lose a feeling of bitterness towards the Catholic church, especially as this practice seemed to happen disproportionately and repeatedly to Muslims in Spain.
Nevertheless, there is still a coexistence of cultures that needs to be noted. The Catholics could have chosen to destroy all remnants of the Muslim tradition, but instead decided to preserve as much as possible. The Cathedral still functions today as a place of worship, with people of all religions respecting the way the two cultures have found a way to create a unique structure. The beauty of this religious fusion of these two worlds makes me wonder if it is possible in the larger realm of the political and diplomatic spheres.