Friday, October 5, 2012

I have come oér moor and mountain...

...like the hawk upon the wing. I was once a shining knight who was the guardian of a king. - Gordon Lightfoot (Don Quixote)

In my case, I just took the AVE from Barcelona. And where did it land me? In that ancient city of scholars and knights. Cordoba.

When the Moors invaded Spain, the rest of Europe were in the Dark Ages. The Moors brought with them philosophy, mathematics, sublime architecture and the concept of bathing. And in Cordoba, they established the greatest city not only in Europe, but all the world. A centre of learning, the most renowned in the world, where Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars worked together, and a gigantic library - again, the largest in the world. And since Cordoba at that point dealt only with tags of the greatest in the world, they built the famed Mezquita, still considered amongst the high-points of Islamic architecture.

So beautiful is it that when the Christians reclaimed Andalusia and were destroying mosques left, right and centre, they didn't have the heart to bring down the Mezquita; instead, they tore out the heart of the mosque and built a cathedral inside. So it's one of the few places in the world where you can walk into a mosque and pray to Christ, or whoever it is that Christians pray to. The signs outside and inside by the Church take great pains to point out that it is a Christian place of worship, and even that it is originally a Christian monument before the Muslims built the mosque. But everyone else still calls it the Mezquita. I like that.

But I had only two nights and a day there, and I was still recovering from Barcelona, so didn't really do very much there. I took a walking tour there and the guide showed me around the Alcazar with its magnificent gardens, the Mezquita, a synagogue and some other buildings of historical interest. The guide was knowledgeable, but I'm not sure walking tours with many people are for me. It felt a little rushed and crowded. I had taken some in Granada, but those were private tours - just me and the guide. More expensive, but definitely more interesting.

Cordoba was also where UNESCO-World-Heritage-Site fatigue first started hitting me. I'm officially tired of monuments. So much so that in my 3 days in Seville later - a city built as a UNESCO Heritage Site, if there ever was one - I only entered two buildings. Maybe I'm a philistine.

But the guide had the best line on the Mezquita. She said that perhaps people should look beyond which religion it belongs to and simply look upon it as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world - first built by the Visigoths, then expanded by the Muslims and now altered by the Christians; it is a veritable book of 1500 years or so of history, if you know how to read the language of stones, engravings and pillars, she says.

As a side note, I stayed in the old Jewish quarter: a labyrinth of narrow, mazy streets and wonderful balconies. I wish I'd walked more than I did in there.




The Trip

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