on March 3, 2010
Cordoba is rightly celebrated for its Mezquita (or Mosque), the most emblematic of the city’s attractions – and iconic it is, as many of Cordoba’s locations work the distinctive two-tone arches into their stylings. Much of the Old Town that surrounds the Mezquita is an attraction in itself – narrow, winding passageways opening out into attractive courtyards and squares, lined with a plethora of tapas bars, shops and restaurants. Cordoba’s diverse religious make-up is evident here, as you stroll from La Juderia (the Jewish district) to streets containing Arabic tearooms and similarly-derived architecture, passing Christian churches and Roman ruins en route.This meeting-point of cultures is most notably on display inside the Mezquita itself, although here the union is not necessarily harmonious. The site started out as a Roman Church before a great Mosque was constructed in its stead – one of the largest in the Muslim world at the time, with over 800 pillars supporting the vast roof. In time, the city was retaken by the Spanish and the sumptuous innards of a Cathedral were built, not over the top of the stunning structure, but inside it. This somewhat off-kilter balance between the two religions remains today, retaining a remarkable, quite unique structure that needs to be experienced, with a curious hushed atmosphere amongst the forest of arches in its darkened halls. Entrance is €8, and is well worth the price, although the impressive patio, filled with orange trees, is free in which to wander.Open from 10 a.m. until half past six, the interior is surprisingly gloomy; although this should not be taken pejoratively. Rather, it adds a certain secretive tranquillity to the vast space inside, where whispers echo around the columns. A host of small chapels have been built into the outside of the structure, but it is the central nave which represents the most striking addition to the building. Constructed in a renaissance style, the Cathedral opens up suddenly in the midst of the Mosque as a bright, opulent clearing that stands proudly in contrast with the earthier, more muted surroundings. From the Cathedral’s point of view, this is as dramatic and distinctive a setting as could be wished for, although one wonders how different the Mezquita looked when it housed only the one religion, with the doors along its northern wall flung open to let the light flood in and illuminate the maze of arches.Despite the Christian influence, the art and style of the Mezquita is still, inside and out, overwhelming Moorish. Within the Mosque, the Mihrab, which once housed the Koran, is without doubt the most overwhelmingly impressive structure; a gilded, mosaiced shrine with finely-crafted curves and lines and exquisite decoration whose finer points and religious significance probably exceed my descriptive abilities.Externally, the Mezquita is equally iconic and striking, dominating Cordoba’s skyline and providing a centrepoint to the city’s old town. Crowds circulate around it all day and sit drinking on its steps late into the night, taking advantage of the number of fine tapas bars lining the surrounding streets. The distinctive bell tower used to stand higher than it currently does, but it still dominates the riverside skyline and guides you towards one of Cordoba, and Spain’s most intriguing structures.
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