April 23 The Mezquita, Cordoba

Our 1 km walk from the Albolafina Campsite to the bus stop took us along a one-lane road, through cultivated fields, and past the tile roofs of stone outbuildings. Blocks of white, low rise apartments and town homes and a small fountain centred park marked the edge of town. A friendly passer-by directed us past the Ermita Las Angustias (the village church) to the bus stop. Had it not been for a young college student on his way to classes, we would have taken the wrong bus. The 8:00 am bus and a 45 minute ride via the college took us to the bus depot at Cordoba. Unable to find a tourist office or map of Cordoba at the depot, we relied on Kate (our GPS) to navigate the 2 km to the Oficina de Turismo near the Mezquita (Cathedral/Mosque de Cordoba). Kate’s battery does not last a day so would get a general bearing, turn her off, and dead reckon for awhile before turning her back on to correct our course. A rather tortuous but intriguing route finally brought us to the tourist office where we acquired a map. Our next priority was coffee and pastries at a nearby bar/restaurant. A row of Jamón Ibérico hung like trophies from hooks above the bar, a small inverted cone hanging below some of them to catch any errant juices. From the street, the bell tower, converted from the original minaret, and the Santa Iglesia Catedral towered above the modest walls of the original mosque. Inside the Orange Tree Courtyard, peopled lined up for entry tickets to the old mosque and cathedral. The Umayyad Mosque began as place of shared Christian and Islam worship on the site of an earlier Christian church (the Basilica of Saint Vincent) after the Moorish conquest. Construction began in 786 and went through successive but architecturally consistent expansions until the 10th century. By then it was a massive colonnaded hypostyle hall. A forest of more than 800 jasper, marble, and granite columns supported some 400 double arches and an intricate wood inlay ceiling. The semi- circular marble Mihrab (an alcove denoting the qibla wall) decorated with intricate Byzanitine mosaics against a gold background sits below one of 4 delicate rib-vaulted skylights. Two more flank the mihrab in front of the qibla wall. The qibla wall should face Mecca, the direction of prayer, but here for some unknown reason, it faces south.  Light from delicate lattice windows in the north wall reflected softly off the polished marble floors. I was surprise by a feeling of contemplative wonder akin to standing in a temperate rain forest as I stood amidst the simple elegant forest of columns and arches. Sadly, the impact of this once vast expanse and wonderful light was marred and disrupted by the walls of the chapels and cathedral built inharmoniously into the original mosque. Although a place of spiritual importance to the Muslim faith, I have always been impressed with a mosque’s sense of informal fellowship and quiet community rather than sombre spirituality during non-prayer periods. After the Reconquista, the land was reconsecrated in 1236, but disruption of the hall proceeded slowly with the construction of smaller chapels progressively replacing or hiding portions of the original Moorish creation. The Parroquia del Sagrario with its tiled floor, elaborate and pervasive frescos, and ornate altar all but obliterated the Moorish character of southeast corner, the Chapel of S. Theresa and Treasure dominated and overwhelmed the adjacent mihrab. Finally in the 16th and early 17th century, the building of a new high altar, transept, and choir in the centre completed the desecration of the Moorish legacy. Unlike the remnants of the mosque, which inspired quiet contemplation and community discourse, the cathedral and chapels strived for a grandeur, solemnity, and projection of power that the hordes or clicking, chattering, flash popping, selfie taking tourists managed to overwhelm. To my mind, the structure on its own has power, beauty, and presence, although less than other cathedrals of its time. The flood of light reflecting from the white marble ceiling and walls illuminates the ornate details of the high altar and choir and presents a compelling contrast to the subdued lighting and simple elegance of the old mosque. Sadly, it  sits discordantly in the middle of the great hall of the old mosque. Even Emperor Charles V upon viewing it recognized the desecration saying, "You have destroyed something unique to build something commonplace." If the crowds were any indication, Charles V and I are a minority. The high altar, transept, and choir were packed shoulder to shoulder with selfie taking tourists. The intimidating grandeur of the church managed to restrain the noise of the crowd to a loud murmur. While I regretted the cathedral’s disturbance of the harmony of the mosque, the juxtaposition of Moorish and Christian architecture created some uniquely beautiful synergies of design and thanks to the popularity of the cathedral, I could still find a sense of peace and solitude in areas of the old mosque and the smaller chapels.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
by David E. Moon
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
The Muslim and Christian synergy could be quite stunning. Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map
The Mezquita after construction of the cathedral Despite Christian modifications, there were still impressive remnants of the original  hypostyle hall. Parroquia del Sagrario (Chapel of the Sanctuaary) Filigreed window in the north wall let in a soft and pleasant light. The Mezquita before construction of the cathedral Jamón Ibérico hangs above the bar at morning coffee North across orange grove courtyard to bell tower, Mezquita, Cordoba The main altar of the cathedral viewed from the choir. The bus stop at Villafranca de Cordoba.

April 23 The Mezquita, Cordoba

Our 1 km walk from the Albolafina Campsite to the bus stop took us along a one-lane road, through cultivated fields, and past the tile roofs of stone outbuildings. Blocks of white, low rise apartments and town homes and a small fountain centred park marked the edge of town. A friendly passer-by directed us past the Ermita Las Angustias (the village church) to the bus stop. Had it not been for a young college student on his way to classes, we would have taken the wrong bus. The 8:00 am bus and a 45 minute ride via the college took us to the bus depot at Cordoba. Unable to find a tourist office or map of Cordoba at the depot, we relied on Kate (our GPS) to navigate the 2 km to the Oficina de Turismo near the Mezquita (Cathedral/Mosque de Cordoba). Kate’s battery does not last a day so would get a general bearing, turn her off, and dead reckon for awhile before turning her back on to correct our course. A rather tortuous but intriguing route finally brought us to the tourist office where we acquired a map. Our next priority was coffee and pastries at a nearby bar/restaurant. A row of Jamón Ibérico hung like trophies from hooks above the bar, a small inverted cone hanging below some of them to catch any errant juices. From the street, the bell tower, converted from the original minaret, and the Santa Iglesia Catedral towered above the modest walls of the original mosque. Inside the Orange Tree Courtyard, peopled lined up for entry tickets to the old mosque and cathedral. The Umayyad Mosque began as place of shared Christian and Islam worship on the site of an earlier Christian church (the Basilica of Saint Vincent) after the Moorish conquest. Construction began in 786 and went through successive but architecturally consistent expansions until the 10th century. By then it was a massive colonnaded hypostyle hall. A forest of more than 800 jasper, marble, and granite columns supported some 400 double arches and an intricate wood inlay ceiling. The semi-circular marble Mihrab (an alcove denoting the qibla wall) decorated with intricate Byzanitine mosaics against a gold background sits below one of 4 delicate rib-vaulted skylights. Two more flank the mihrab in front of the qibla wall. The qibla wall should face Mecca, the direction of prayer, but here for some unknown reason, it faces south.  Light from delicate lattice windows in the north wall reflected softly off the polished marble floors. I was surprise by a feeling of contemplative wonder akin to standing in a temperate rain forest as I stood amidst the simple elegant forest of columns and arches. Sadly, the impact of this once vast expanse and wonderful light was marred and disrupted by the walls of the chapels and cathedral built inharmoniously into the original mosque. Although a place of spiritual importance to the Muslim faith, I have always been impressed with a mosque’s sense of informal fellowship and quiet community rather than sombre spirituality during non-prayer periods. After the Reconquista, the land was reconsecrated in 1236, but disruption of the hall proceeded slowly with the construction of smaller chapels progressively replacing or hiding portions of the original Moorish creation. The Parroquia del Sagrario with its tiled floor, elaborate and pervasive frescos, and ornate altar all but obliterated the Moorish character of southeast corner, the Chapel of S. Theresa and Treasure dominated and overwhelmed the adjacent mihrab. Finally in the 16th and early 17th century, the building of a new high altar, transept, and choir in the centre completed the desecration of the Moorish legacy. Unlike the remnants of the mosque, which inspired quiet contemplation and community discourse, the cathedral and chapels strived for a grandeur, solemnity, and projection of power that the hordes or clicking, chattering, flash popping, selfie taking tourists managed to overwhelm. To my mind, the structure on its own has power, beauty, and presence, although less than other cathedrals of its time. The flood of light reflecting from the white marble ceiling and walls illuminates the ornate details of the high altar and choir and presents a compelling contrast to the subdued lighting and simple elegance of the old mosque. Sadly, it  sits discordantly in the middle of the great hall of the old mosque. Even Emperor Charles V upon viewing it recognized the desecration saying, "You have destroyed something unique to build something commonplace." If the crowds were any indication, Charles V and I are a minority. The high altar, transept, and choir were packed shoulder to shoulder with selfie taking tourists. The intimidating grandeur of the church managed to restrain the noise of the crowd to a loud murmur. While I regretted the cathedral’s disturbance of the harmony of the mosque, the juxtaposition of Moorish and Christian architecture created some uniquely beautiful synergies of design and thanks to the popularity of the cathedral, I could still find a sense of peace and solitude in areas of the old mosque and the smaller chapels.
A Sense of Place:  Travel, Photography, and Photo-art
by David E. Moon
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
The Muslim and Christian synergy could be quite stunning. Slideshow Slideshow Route Map Route Map
The Mezquita after construction of the cathedral Despite Christian modifications, there were still impressive remnants of the original  hypostyle hall. Parroquia del Sagrario (Chapel of the Sanctuaary) Filigreed window in the north wall let in a soft and pleasant light. The Mezquita before construction of the cathedral Jamón Ibérico hangs above the bar at morning coffee North across orange grove courtyard to bell tower, Mezquita, Cordoba The main altar of the cathedral viewed from the choir. The bus stop at Villafranca de Cordoba.