Thursday, January 8, 2009


"You have built what you or others might've built anywhere, but you have destroyed something unique in the world."

- Carlos V, King of Spain (1516-1556), about the cathedral in the Mezquita

Cordoba's all yellow. 

It rises from the banks of a muddy yellow river. The walls are made of sandstone, and the buildings are covered with yellow plaster. The alcazar is made from yellow-tinged rock and the Meqzuita is made up of rough-hewn, yellow sandstone. From the banks of the Guadalquivir River, as you cross the old Roman bridge, it seems like the city's made out of yellow mud. 

The Meqzuita's a strange thing.  It was started in the 8th century and kept expanding as the Cordoba emirate kept getting richer. In the 12th century, it had overtaken the Damascus mosque as THE reference point for Islamic architecture. The guide book says it's the greatest visual representation to homesickness ever constructed, and it's not wrong. 

When you walk in it, it's cavernous and dark and so eerie. It's a hall of marble pillars and red-and-white brick arches, with dim lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The sense of history is almost palpable. If you close your eyes, you can hear the muezzin call to prayer, smell the orange trees in the courtyard and see the host of muslims kneeling in the direction of Mecca. 

Of course, someone in the 16th century decided to build a cathedral right in the middle of it, so the effect is kind of diminished. The cathedral's so out of place that it jars the senses. You have a mosque that speak of God through the repetition of pillars and arches, through the use of space and light and shadow. It's elegant and graceful and so profound. And smack in the middle of it, you've a bunch of statues and paintings and clutter, that speak more of the mundane than the transcendent. It's pretty shitty, and I wholeheartedly agree with Carlos V. 

End result, you walk out of the Mezquita with a profound sense of loss. And you wonder what it would've looked like if it hadn't been desecrated by the Catholics. 

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