Among My Souvenirs

Stories of the road

The Mosque-Cathedral

Spain has always called to my soul. Like many places we travel, I can’t say why I wanted to go there. Was it something I read or saw that I no longer remember, was it part of someone else’s story of travel which left me longing to see for myself? For whatever the reason, Spain called. In November of 2016, we made our way from Lisbon, Portugal to the south of Spain. Here in the rich lands of olive groves and blending cultures we arrived in Cordoba.

An old walled city in the Andalusia Province, Cordoba offered a vast sensory feast for my camera as well as my spirit. It is here that the Romans settled in the early 100’s building bridges, roads and structures. Over the ensuing years, the Roman Empire lost strength and vitality and the city was taken by the Visigoths in 528, ultimately, she fell under Muslim rule in 716. An area rich in agriculture and connection, Cordoba expanded becoming the largest city in the Western world. She thrived as a the center of trade, glass making, and the resurfacing of ancient Greek mathematics, philosophy, and science, the Caliphate library held over 400,000 volumes.

Cordoba was a showcase of the Muslin urban organization patterns: the public granary, markets, baths were all situated around the Mosque. A pattern that was repeated in the major cities of the south. Yet, the decline of the Caliphate in the early 1200’s left her vulnerable to recapture by Christian forces in 1236.

The bus dropped us off some walking distance from the actual entryway to the city. From the exterior it seemed like others we had seen until we walked into the city proper and came to the Mosque-Cathedral. The Mosque began in 780 and completed several hundred years later as new additions continued to enlarge the grand structure. In 1236 when Ferdinand III conquered the city, he transformed the Mosque into a Cathedral by altering the interior with a royal chapel, side chapels and the adaption of the skylight.

I was not prepared from the grand beauty of the interior, nor the fact that one house of worship of a different religion was not destroyed in the making of another. The juxtaposition of the the delicate arches sometimes called “candy canes” for their ribbon like color, the vaulted ceilings and the skylights, the realistic Christian statues and artwork was a tribute to both faith traditions. Somehow it all worked together.

Sadly, to this day the Muslims are not allowed to worship in this Mosque. Still it does give my heart some peace to know that there was a moment in time when a decision was made to live and let live, to honor sacred space for the universal message of God/Allah - rather than the destruction for the show of human kingdoms and power.