Cordoban Conundrum

From a travel standpoint the day was near perfect. Easy drive. Found the hotel no sweat despite being almost dead center in the medieval quarter which usually means driving purgatory. The hotel guy walked to where the car was illegally parked and then went with us to the parking structure. This may sound simple but Dave and I can testify from our experience in Italy that this is not always the case. Car parked. Went to our primary destination, the Mezquita, and were blown away. More in a minute. Enjoyed a lovely lunch in a tourist free traditional patio dining room. Toured the old Jewish Quarter which has had very few Jewish residents for around 500 years. Despite the smoothness and completeness of the day there was some things wrong that I still keep spinning around in my head.

First, I have decided that another definition of Hell could be to be eternally stuck on a bus tour following an umbrella wielding guide. Obviously, tour groups are the nature of things when you are doing the blockbuster sightseeing trip that we are on. However, the giant clots that clog the tourist arteries are starting to get to me.

Second, there was so much beauty today that bears the weight of horrible persecution and intolerance. On the other hand, there is the clear demonstration that people can live in harmony while retaining their deep differences. Cordoba is proof positive of this thesis.

Cordoba was a Roman city that was taken over by the Visigoths who became Christians and ruled the area until the arrival of the Moors in the 8th Century. They built a church on the site we visited today.

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The stones pictured were dug up under the Moorish mosque, The Mezquita, proving that there was a church here first. The Ummayad rulers built a massive mosque over the church in stages until it covered a space 400 x 600 feet. They adopted the Visigothic horseshoe arch in a remarkable way.

In the 9th Century while Vikings were trashing Paris, Cordoba was a city of 100,000 dwarfing all other European cities. The city also boasted 70 libraries at a time when Charlemagne could not read. The Cordoban Moor Averroes and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides were attempting to reconcile Aristotle with their respective beliefs.

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Their work in turn heavily influenced Thomas Aquinas along with folks who would found universities at Salamanca, Paris and Oxford. The place was the intellectual center of the west.

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A key feature was the open courtyard with today’s orange trees where the 20,000 worshippers could wash before attending their service. Another was the Mithrab niche which served as pulpit and focus of prayer. Neither of these features were messed with when Christians took control of the city in the 13th Century. The Christians wasted no time converting the Mosque to a church and in the 16th Century built a cathedral in the middle of the former mosque.

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Sorry about the mixing of the pictures but then the entire place is also a bit of a jumble. Anyway, from the time of the reconquest in the 13th Century until time of Ferdinand and Isabella, all three monotheistic religions in the city seemed to peacefully coexist. You might say they shared a culture but maintained their own faith.

This situation ended with the rising intolerance in Spain which led to the Inquisition. Muslims and Jews were given a simple choice to convert or die (or leave). This is the conundrum. A society that created such beauty and achievement could reach such a brutal end.

Heading for La Mancha tomorrow. Don Quixote may be a dreamer but my time in Cordoba makes me lean towards the dreamers.

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The Mithrab niche still exists. That is a symbol of hope as is the shell of the pilgrim sign found near the headquarters of the Inquisition.

2 thoughts on “Cordoban Conundrum

  1. What a wonderful presentation you have given us back home. Makes me feel like i have been walking and talking to all those people I studied in History class. Thanks for all the new info I am learning. Hope and pray we all learn from our past.

  2. Love the metaphor of the “giant clots” that tour groups can be. I would have to agree with you there.

    Unless one has studied history or watched The History Channel, most in the Western hemisphere don’t have a clue about the thriving civilization that existed in Cordoba. By the way, some nice images of inside the Mosque.

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