Where did I go: Cordoba, Spain
When did I go: March 2016
Take one Islamic mosque, put several dozen chapels dedicated to Christian Saints around the sides, put a Cathedral nave in the middle, and you have the world famous Cordoba Mosque-Cathedral. We decided to stop by Cordoba on the last leg of our trip to Spain covering Madrid, Seville and Granada, especially to visit this renowned Cathedral.
I’ll start from the beginning.
0940: In a taxi on the way to the Granada coach station.
1000: Still in the taxi. The bus station seems quite a long way out of town.
1005: Panic! We asked the taxi driver how far it is to the coach station – only to discover he was taking us to the airport! Rapid U-turn and we are back on the way.
1020: At Cordoba coach station, after a rather speedy drive. To be fair to the driver it was a mis-communication between the hotel and the taxi company, and he didn’t charge us any extra. We are still in good time to catch the 1030 coach to Cordoba.
1030: On the way to Cordoba. There are no direct trains between Granada and Cordoba, so we decided to take the coach. This is a coach service operated by ALSA, one of the main coach operators in Spain. A super economy ticket for 17 Euros per person gets you a large, comfortable leather seat with extra leg room, refreshments and headphones.
1300: Coach arrives in Cordoba two and a half hours later. Not much to see on the way. Left our luggage at the bus station (4 Euros for a locker) then walked into town center (about 20 minutes on foot).
1330: As you get near the to the town and the Cathedral, its much like Seville or Granada, with narrow cobbles streets and whitewashed houses.
1400: Stopped to have lunch at a nearby restaurant – tapas for lunch – fried potatoes in spicy sauce, Romaine hearts with garlic and battered and fried aubergines. It’s the best tapas we’ve had during the whole trip.
1500: At Cordoba Cathedral (8 Euros for entry).
The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba is a Catholic cathedral. It was originally a small temple of Christian Visigoth origin. Following the Islamic invasion of Cordoba, the church was divided into Muslim and Christian halves. This sharing arrangement continued until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir Abd-ar-Rahman who then demolished the original structure and build the grand mosque of Cordoba on its ground. The mosque was further extended by subsequent Emirs. Following the Reconquista in 1236, Córdoba returned to Christian rule and the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church. Which among other things, meant the insertion of a Renaissance Cathedral nave in the 16th century.
I step inside Cathedral an am immediately struck by the difference to the outside. It’s a sunny warm day outside, with plenty of noises in the city. But inside the church, its quiet, cool and dark. The noise and heat the street died immediately and I felt a sense of complete clam and peace. It’s so quiet, without knowing it, I find myself walking on tip-toe, so that my boots won’t make a noise.
In front of me are rows and rows of columns holding up red and white arches. This was the prayer hall of the Cordoba mosque. The edges of the hall are lined up with dozens of Chapels dedicated to numerous Christian saints.
I make my way into the centre of the hall and my jaw drops. It’s as if I’ve gone through some sort of a portal an ended up in a Renaissance cathedral. (Much like the one in Prague where we listened to the four seasons concert). The main chapel, the Choir and the Transept are amazing works of art. And it’s not just me who is watching in awe – I can see others, wondering around and looking up wide eyed and open mouthed.
The insertion of this central cathedral nave was controversial, even in the 16th century. The perfect mixture if Christian and Islamic cultures or an unmitigated architectural disaster? Having been here, I would say its the former. Fusion of the Christian and Islamic architecture is everywhere and it is done beautifully.
The level of detail and intricacy of the plaster work is breathtaking.
Interesting Fact: The Cordoba Mosque-Cathedral ranks at number 73 on Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist – best 500 places on the planet.
1730: Back on the train to Madrid. I am not a religious person, but this visit has left me in a reflective mood. An excerpt from the leaflet from the Cathedral struck a code with me, so thought I will finish this post with it:
The visit to the cathedral of Cordoba may awake the demand and the quest for a greater Beauty that will not wither with time. Because beauty, as truth and righteousness, are an antidote for pessimism and an invitation to take pleasure in life, a shaking of the soul that provokes the longing for God.