Much like the other cities that I visited in Andalusia, Cordoba is a mix of the old and new, standing side by side. There isn’t one spot that sums it up more than the entrance into Cordoba’s Juderia district – Puerta de Almodóvar. Originally built in the fourteenth century to help protect the Old Town, the Puerta de Almodovar is an arched gateway with the look of a grand castle.
The Juderia district (or Jewish Quarter) is a picturesque area with small winding roads, lined with cute shops and cafes. It dates back to the peak of the Caliphate of Cordoba. The Jewish community who lived in Spain at that time enjoyed complete social and religious freedom, and their prosperity contributed to the region becoming the cultural capital of Europe at the time .
Walking through the streets buzzing with tourists, makes me feel nostalgic for another time when the roads would have been filled with people of differing faiths and cultures working, studying, praying and living together.
Google maps guides us to Mesquita de Cordoba (mosque-cathedral of Cordoba). We stop on the way to pick up some souvenirs (magnet for me mum), and then turn a corner to the view of the Mesquita.
Having visited many different tourist sites in Andalusia, I was shocked to see armed police outside the building. I had been warned by others who had visited that the Mesquita was a place of tension, especially towards Muslims – something I had not experienced yet in the trip.
I sit in the courtyard of the building for a while, admiring the craftsmanship of the large door made up of geometric patterns. After our tickets are bought, we make our way inside.
Before entering, my father in law is asked to remove his hat (sun hat btw) because ‘this is not a mosque’. (Yo the pope wears hat too).
The inside is lit only by dim lights in the candle holders hanging from the ceiling, and natural light that comes in through arched windows with cut out geometric patterns.
The famous red and white striped arches stand out everywhere I look. The colours were inspired by the arches in the Dome of the Rock, and are held up by 856 marble pillars.
The double arches were a new architectural feature at the time which allowed for higher ceilings. They also give a beautiful effect of the arches following one another in succession.
We walk through the large hall, passing different chapels, to the back wall where the original Mihrab (alcove facing Makkah) has been preserved. There is a sharp contrast between the chapel and the mihrabs, displaying the difference in era and religion.
After walking around for a while, taking pictures, and admiring the architecture, we notice something. The same security guard had been following us the entire time. In the moment, I just ignore it and keep going on with my tour.
Later in our trip, we meet a tour group who offer historical tours of Cordoba as it was under Islamic rule. They explain that groups of Muslims are often watched closely in the Mesquita, and highly filtered information is given to tourists by official tour guides.
I am in no way discrediting the efforts of the Spanish government to restore and maintain the mihrabs, and other Islamic features of buildings in the region. However, in Cordoba, there was a sense of forcible denying that any Muslims ever existed or prospered in the city.
We finish touring the Mesquita, and exit into the bright sun outside.
Let’s just say: it was bittersweet.