Oh…. Nothing really.
Just that it was THE epicentre of learning in the world during the 9th and 10th century.
Oh and the fact that it has a mosque AND a cathedral in it (now that should be a no-brainer right?) has got to give it some weight right?
I mentioned in my very first entry on Cordoba that in the 10th century, over 5 million Muslims lived in Cordoba, making up over 80% of the population. It was the capital of the (then) strong and united Umayyad caliphate and was by far the most advanced and stable society in Europe. It attracted those seeking education from all over the Muslim world and Europe.
Muslims, Christians, Jews and others stayed together and most importantly, learned and debated together! It is important to note that this period of enlightenment was a result of open debate and the exchange of ideas amongst people of various faiths, but under the rule of a Muslim caliphate. This was the jewelled understanding of the time – education and knowledge are for all.
Under the rule of Caliph Al Hakam II (one very interesting personality, not without his fair share of controversy), it became a centre for education. Al Hakam II opened many libraries on top of the many medical schools and universities (madrasas) which existed at the time. Such universities contributed towards developments in mathematics, astronomy and other sciences.
The Mezquita-Cathedral was at the heart of all these activities.
Of course, at that point of time, it was only a mezquita (mosque), a place where not only worship took place but learning and debate. Spirituality and scholarship were not compartmentalized – it was a holistic take on education. The main hall was where the five daily prayers and Jumaah prayers were held, where classes were taught and where Sharia Law cases were presided over. In its hall, aspects of religion, philosophy, anatomy, geometry and countless other intellectual disciplines were weighed and considered, and those learning handed on into Western thinking.
And need I mention, it was a grand piece of architecture. In fact, it is deemed to be one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.
To the people of al-Andalus “the beauty of the mosque was so dazzling that it defied any description.
The mosque was built on grounds that originally held a Christian Visigothic church. In 784, after the Islamic conquest of the area, a mosque was built to form part of the palace grounds. The mosque was then developed and enlarged over the years, until it reached its current dimension in in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and courtyard. [Source]
It was then converted into a cathedral after the Spanish Reconquest. Only the centre was altered at first, which meant that most of the mosque was still intact. It was only when the most significant alteration, the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave right in the middle of the structure, was finished, that the status truly shifted (physically and in essence) to be a mosque-cathedral. The insertion was constructed by permission of Charles V, king of Castile and Aragon (the same one who’d done changes to the Alhambra) but he didn’t like it and famously said:
Of course, it needs to be said that the mosque’s (re)conversion to a Catholic church, may have worked in its favour – it preserved it when the Spanish Inquisition was most active. The mimbar is still intact, the rows are still aligned to face the qibla, till today.
With such a significant history, of course I was more than excited with the idea of exploring it! On the way from Granada, I’d already envisioned myself walking through the halls, sitting in a corner, reflecting and imagining how it must have been like when cloaked, learned men walked and debated on the very same ground I was on.
But that very nearly didn’t happen.
When I first got to the Mezquita-Cathedral, I was beyond overwhelmed. I was so….. in awe of the place. There I was, finally in the place I’ve always wanted to go to after years of studying Islamic history. It was grander that I thought it would be. The courtyard was lush, the air was fresh and the structure was majestic.
But then I saw the entrance fee, checked my wallet and my spirits sunk a little.
I didn’t have enough cash with me – not enough to pay the €8 entrance fee and get me a sandwich for lunch.
So remember I said I went on this SeekingSpain adventure at the tail-end of my relationship? I was initially hesitant to share this but oh, might as well. You’ll be able to appreciate the twist in the journey better with this context in mind.
There were some unresolved issues with the ex that involved money, money that was my due but had ended up in the wrong hands. To cut a very long story short, at that time when I was in Cordoba, my ex had not transferred the money he had borrowed from me, even though a set time (prior to Cordoba) had been agreed on for the transfer to be made.
I knew I needed to make a decision there and then. I couldn’t bear the thought of having been to Cordoba but not entering the Mezquita-Cathedral – it was too painful. I had some fairycakes in my bag, so I was seriously contemplating the idea of just having that as my meal for the day and banking all that I had left on the entrance ticket. Then I remembered that I needed to save the money for at least the next day too, since I didn’t know when the transfer was going to be made. It was a tough call.
I decided to sit in the courtyard to just breathe and take in the entirety of the situation. As other times, whenever I felt amiss on the trip, I took out my Quran and started reading. It suddenly hit me, the surreality of it – I was reading the Quran in the courtyard where Islam used to thrive and learned men used to congregate. It was now a mere shadow of the majesty it once was.
I then read al-Mulk, which I thought was a fitting ode to the time and place:
Say, “It is He who has produced you and made for you hearing and vision and hearts; little are you grateful.” [67:23]
I realised then that He gives and takes however He wishes. Who are we to walk this earth as proud beings when it is so clear how He can take our glory from us anytime?
I closed my eyes, took deep breaths and then said a silent prayer, asking for Him to make it easy for me and if I was not meant to step into the mosque on that day, to let me come again so that I will be able to. A sense of calm washed through me and I knew then, that what is meant to be, will be.
I packed my bag, took a deep breath of the fresh air, and decided to go exploring the area around the mezquita-cathedral. I shared about this in a previous entry.
After much walking, I sat down to rest in a little courtyard I’d found by chance. I managed to tap into the wi-fi of a nearby cafe and finally got sent the text I desperately needed to send – arranging to get the money transferred. When I received an affirmation of the transfer (someone else took the matter into his/her own hands and decided to help get me out of my predicament) about 5 minutes later, I nearly weeped with joy. Scratch that, I nearly let out a happy scream.
I could enter the mezquita-cathedral!
It was meant to be!
Imagine, if I’d just sat in the courtyard and mope the entire time, I wouldn’t have been able to explore the area, I wouldn’t have found the cafe with the wi-fi and I wouldn’t have been able to send the text to inform the necessary people of the broken promise and the MIA-ex. Everything fell into place and I got my prayers answered – I was going to explore the grand mosque. (:
I must have skipped all the way back to the mezquita-cathedral. I was too happy.
The fact that I very nearly didn’t get to enter the mosque made my visit even more special. It was truly a gift, a timely one, to be able to walk through the vastness of history.
It wasn’t something I was going to take for granted. It was one immense blessing that could have easily been denied.
And I cannot wait to share the stunning interior of this unique mezquita-cathedral with you. (:
Come back soon to check it out!
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