Religion in Andalusian Spain is pretty much settled business these days, everyone is Roman Catholic. At least pretty much. But there have been more complicated times in this region. La Mezquita in Cordoba is a prime example of that. La Mezquita (“the Mosque” in Spanish) is a prime example of the push and shove that has happened over the centuries. Originally built as a mosque in 900 A.D. was a wonder of the medieval world and was once the center of Western Islam and even rivaled Baghdad and Constantinople in its 10th century prime.
But in 1236, Saint-King Ferdinand III conquered Cordoba and converted the mosque into a Catholic cathedral. To further complicate matters, this contested building is located in the Jewish quarter of the city which evidences the tolerance Islam once had for Judaism. I’ve seen this in several ancient Muslim cultures now.
Because the mosque was such a glorious structure the intervening Catholics were sensitive in keeping the architectural integrity of the mosque when they converted it to a cathedral. It’s absolutely striking though to be walking through an ancient mosque and then all of a sudden be in a cathedral. I think Rick Steves summed it up best in his guide book:
“As you take in the styles of these two great places of worship, ponder how they reflect the differences between Catholic and Islamic aesthetics and psychology: horizontal vs. vertical, intimate vs. powerful, fear-inspiring vs. loving, dark vs. bright, simple vs .elaborate, feeling close to Go vs. feeling small before God.”