Friday in Cordoba…Madinat et Al-Zahra and the Great Mosque (Cathedral) of Cordoba.

30 Jun

It’s hot, I’m exhausted, and for those of you who I hope read this, I miss you far more than you likely realize…some of you even keep me awake with worry (Especially directed at my roommate and the two of you in California: Yes, Dave Saurwald- you being one of them…)

In any case, since it turns out I’m being graded for this I thought I would do a “technical” write up on my experience of Cordoba, I beg forgiveness if some of the information is repeated from my post yesterday.  However, since I do still consider this a semi-personal blog I would also like to explain why sometimes it takes so long for me to get my act together enough to post.

…Tonight, I blame “Skippy”:

Yep, this is "Skippy"... I think he's a swift. I named him after my former physics teacher who once failed me in high school for passing out in class repeatedly from working 2 jobs. (we became close friends afterwards) Skippy also fails at physics just as I once did.

…cute, eh?

As I was leaving the Museum of Jaen this evening, I saw this little guy flopping about on the ground near the gardens…so I picked him up and took him home with me.  The picture is when I first attempted to put him on a tree branch- but he would stay on for a few minutes, then fall to the ground.  Nothing seems to be broken, so either he’s sick or mentally retarded… Since his wing feathers are fully formed, I knew he was an adult bird so falling out of the nest was not an option. I wish I could have taken a picture of him perching on my hand, but my camera skills are not THAT good!  Either way, I thought that Spain would have some sort of animal rescue or something I could take him to.  Sadly, not.

My Spanish is terrible; I get by with “Habla Espanole on pokito, Habla inglis?”, “bale”, and “no comprende”- so trying to explain that I was looking for someone to help my little friend did not work so well.  My host family thought I was strange, people on the street who saw me walking around Jaen with this bird perched on my hand gave me odd looks, and people with small children stopped me to pet him.

Eventually, I realized I had a loss cause in my hand (but not two in the bush)- and I took him back to the gardens and put him in a tree and prayed that the cats won’t eat him before he either recovers from what ails him or his intelligence improves enough to figure out how wings are supposed to work.

In any case, about Cordoba….

First, the Jewish quarter:

Dr. Bernardo Cantens and Dr. Manuel Jodar seeking the wisdom of Maimonodes...if you touch his feet, legend has it- you gain his intelligence/wisdom. I recieved an A on the test- so it must have worked:)

Although this is out of order, I figured these two gentlemen would be looking for this picture-  I think I was the only student who kept up with them as they practically sprinted through Cordoba to find this statue…the building was also “for sale”, and I believe Dr. Cantens was seriously debating a change of residence for a moment….

I missed the picture of him looking at the "for sale" sign- so Dr. Cantens reading the caption will have to do for now...

Anyway…here are my thoughts on the other focal points of the trip:

Madinat et Al-Zahra


...and some of those Islamic archways I love so much...

This is the excavation site of the ancient city of Madinat et Al-Zahra, the home of some of the Spanish Caliphate.  However, sadly, this beautiful city was only occupied for less than a century leaving it abandoned and forgotten until its excavation in the earlier part of the last century.

...more ruins! As you can see, they still have a bit of work yet to do.

I can force perspective and accent shadows anywhere, apparently...

In any case, I know know the allure of ruins and excavation sites…and I know I commented to Manuel that it must be extremely rewarding to work on a site like this.
It makes me wish that going on the dig in Israel with Dr. Radine was in the cards for me.  This city was allegidly named for the favored concubine of the caliph who ordered the construction of the city- this location was on the side of a hill facing the city of what is now modern Cordoba

The remains of the Mosque and adjacent courtyard

Above, you can see the remains of the Mosque and courtyard at the site- unlike most mosques in Spain, the Quibla wall (the far wall in the picture above) is actually correctly oriented towards Mecca. Most Iberian Mosques were incorrectly oriented towards Damascus rather than Mecca since much of the original Muslim population originated from Syria.  The cross-shaped structures in the front of the larger building are the remains of the minarets and one can also make out the ruins of the fountains used for ritual cleansing in the foreground.

The main building

The main building above was used for the Caliph to receive foreign diplomats the building in its peak was once secured with large metal doors which were opened to grand effect to reveal higher-up government officials with style.  In front of this building, a large reflecting pool was under repair and plumbing was being installed to reactivate the ancient fountains….hence the fencing.  Much of the site was being restored with modern materials and I found that pieces of the palace were scattered in museums throughout Spain making reconstruction with original materials unlikely.  The ornamentation on the arches in the picture above was likely recently carved cement.
There was so much marble in existence in this particular palace that large slabs of it could occasionally be seen on the grounds.  According to Manuel- the amount of marble was so overwhelming that not even looters could steal all of it.

I believe the eventual goal is to restore this palace to the same level as Al-hambra, however, if this is the case, the work and excavation may take decades.  The majority of the work stopped, however, around 1982; the same time as the work ceased for the Arabic Baths in Jaen.  Apparently, something must have occurred the year I was born which cut funding to such projects.  From what I can determine, it appears to me that restoration and excavation has continued on this particular site recently as evidenced by several indicators that work was being resumed such as fresh excavation tools and supplies found in various parts of the site.  If I only spoke Spanish, I would be game for volunteering on a site like this, I think.

There was also a museum on the site as well, however, since I have uploaded the pics to snapfish, I will refrain from posting all of them sans this one:

A lead pipe....

Apparently, most of the plumbing was constructed of lead…  I am forced to wonder if lead poisoning became part of the reason for the defeat of this place and a weakening of the forces of this palace…

The Great Mosque (or Cathedral) of Cordoba

From the outside...

First real view upon entrance...

One of the entrances- the planks of wood on the side are some of the original ornamentation saved from the Islamic period.

I took over 100 pictures of this mosque, and as much as I am sorely tempted to post and comment on all of them, I do have to sleep eventually.  There are two tragedies of this location as indicated to me by both Manuel and my guide Aziz in Morocco-  The first and foremost is that although this structure is still used as a catholic church, those of the Muslim faith are barred from using the facility as an official place of worship as well despite the fact that the Islamic aspects remain fully intact.  Secondly, despite being the largest mosque in all of Europe, it’s Islamic significance is marginalized by being classified as being located in the “Ancient Jewish” quarter.  Although Judaism both considered a related faith to Islam, if not its parent- Aziz indicated that not referring to this section of the city as “Islamic” irks many Muslims to an equal extent as not being allowed to pray within, allegedly.

This mosque is easily the largest structure in Cordoba…and I apologize for continuing to refer to it as the “Mosque”- and I do not intend disrespect to its Christian use- however, since both professors  who informed me of its existence refer to it as “The Mosque”(both Manuel as well as my advisor) I have difficulty viewing it otherwise despite the equally Christianized elements now present within such as below:

Here you can see the juxtaposition of both Islamic and Catholic architecture- The ceiling is a Christian addition, the arches are from Caliph Rachman II (I believe)

"You should take a picture of this for the Religion Dept!" Said Dr. Cantens- so I did. However, to be perfectly honest, this still doesn't sit "right" with me- something about the forcidness of some of the Christianization of this place rings false to me and unsettles me- despite the fact that I agree with Manuel's point of view that both can coexist in the same space harmoniously. This part just bothered me.

...and this might be why: this is the "Treasure room" for the catholic cathedral within the mosque. Somehow, I just do not believe that religion and conspicuous materialism should go hand in hand. Perhaps, it's not the "Christianness" of the building at all- but rather, that I disagree with this particular portrayal of Christianity. Christianity should not be a religion of ostentatiousness- but rather of humility the existence of a treasure room seems "anti-Jesus" to me. Perhaps, it could also be that it almost feels like the Christianization of the place seems callous and "forced" despite the fact that it may have saved the building from destruction, ultimately.

In refutation to the commentary above, it can also be said that Islamic buildings do possess a certain type of opulence of their own. Much of the detail work is done is gold (although the Quran specifically forbids Muslims from wearing the metal) and most of it was created in great wealth and splendor.  However, I cannot understand why I am no unsettled by a mosque or Islamic palace being opulently appointed, but yet, I have a severe problem with a Christian building being so. seen in this Quibla wall- Although this is obviously gold and lapis, I have no intrinsic problem with this compared to the gold found in Christian iconography and ritual ornamentation/instrumentation and I do not know why!

Actually, it appears someone is restoring/cleaning the Islamic portion of the structure, so the ornamentation is even "richer" than it appears! (see the dark blue section?)

Perhaps, my disquiet comes from the fact that in Islam, the golden portions are part of the building itself, and therefore to be equally appreciated by all people regardless of class, station, or title.  in Catholicism, many of the most conspicuous uses of expensive materials is used for the exclusive use of the church hierarchy such as vestments and scepters for priests, bishops, cardinals, etc.  I do not know if any Imams are similarly appointed, but I would like to doubt it.  However, I would like an authority on the subject to weigh in and answer this question if possible.  Additionally, I would also like to note that this mosque is also one of the ones that I believe is orientated incorrectly towards Syria rather than Mecca.

This place is huge!

An amazing view of the original ceiling above the Quibla

I do have over 100 photos of this place from both trips I took to see it, some of them sadly out of focus on account of the low lighting of the structure. However, I would like to make note of three different features before moving forward:

First, a view of the courtyard- this courtyard is about half the size of the mosque itself if I am not mistaken, this picture does not come close to showing its true size. Additionally, it may be mostly unchanged from its Islamic roots (pun unintended!)

Second, the originial floor- this was at least 10 feet lower than the floor we walked on. I cannot determine if this is original to the mosque, or the church that existed prior to it- I am thinking it is Islamic, but I could be mistaken!

#2: I apologize for the blurriness of this photo, I have several better photos of other aspects of the building I did not post, however, This is from the bench I sat on to meditate when I returned in the afternoon. From here you can see both the Quibla wall on your left as well as some sort of Catholic iconography on your right.

In the photo above, the juxtaposition of the two did not seem to mesh well and left me with a feeling of tension which may have led me to the conclusion that both the Mosque as well as the newer Cathedral only seemed oppositional because of the emotions of those who created them. Both and neither may be equally valid to God- leading me to the thought that praying in such a structure does not lead one to a closer relationship to God based on geographic location but rather, places like this are to serve as reminders of God’s existence.

There may be an inherent spiritual trap to any holy place that could easily lead one to mistakenly believe that God would be more present here than elsewhere…whatever tension I felt between the two expressions of faith I realized was purely man-made- I don’t believe such petty distinctions make any difference to God one way or another.  My personal belief is it may not matter which particular path one may follow to have a relationship with the Divine- as long as the relationship, not the trapping of the faith, are emphasized and placed at highest value and priority. Again, I restate that I do fully believe the truth of Manuel’s sentiment that there is no reason why both faiths cannot both share this place and that its stupid to allow one and not the other.  Even though my inherent prejudice for whatever reason strongly desires to “side” with Islam rather than Catholicism (It must be all those years of Lutheran confirmation class)  I still can recognize that he is right; and even if my prejudice is based on some valid reasoning- it may be that I (and others) need to move beyond such prejudice, perhaps.

Arabic Baths: Cordoba

Anyway, between both visits to the mosque, I enjoyed the opportunity to visit the FUNCTIONING Arabic baths in Cordoba.  Sadly, no pictures were allowed….however, many of the inner ornamentation was similar to that seen in Jaen.  I was lucky to be able to go with a few of my classmates, Travis, Aimee, Christine, and I can’t recall if Torie was there or not (again, my poor memory!) The baths themselves consisted of 4 rooms, a room with 2 small cold pools, a room with one huge warm pool/massage therapists, a room with two smallish hot pools, and a turkish “bath”- which we would better know as a sauna.( I found it a bit difficult to breathe in and spent little time within it.)    Visitors were expected to wear their bathing suits and no jewelry except for the wrist-things that contained one’s locker key and number for the massage tables.

The idea was you were supposed to rest in each pool in a specific order, which I could never quite remember, traveling from pool to pool until your number was called for massage.  The cold one was COLD!!! As in, Ice cold.  Refreshing, but a bit of a shock and it took a great deal of will power on my part to completely submerge myself momentarily!   The hot one was about the same temperature as the average jacuzzi, and the warm one was relaxingly pleasant and a decent place to socialize quietly while waiting for our massages. Overall, I felt perfectly at home and comfortable here, and only left with profound regret.

Additionally, outside the warm pool was an area with benches and some teapots filled with some excellent mint tea.  The baths took about an hour and most people paid for the massage…in my case, I paid for an extended massage since I felt especially tense and stressed out at the time.  It was worth it, and I smelled like Jasmin oil for at least the next couple of days.   I think my other classmates enjoyed it as well…and addititionally, I felt the added benefit of feeling like I performed a traditionally “correct” action before re-entering the mosque shortly thereafter.

One amusing thing to note;  the week before I traveled to Cordoba, I emailed my advisor, to ask him if there would be any ethical issue with me visiting Mosques since I come from a somewhat pagan religious background in my beliefs.  I was amused to find that he not only encouraged me not to miss the opportunity (and corrected my mistaken assumption that Pagans were considered anathema in the Qur’an) but also, I was very amused to see in his response he indicated he issued a “Fatwa” to give me permission to go!  Amusing, since a “Fatwa” is a “official religious opinion” that can be issued by any recognized scholar of the Qur’an who is “pure of heart” and indicated to be observed as official guidance to either/or other members of the faith or other scholars regarding acceptable behavior or interpretation of the Qur’an.   I enjoyed it-  and I very much appreciated his response.

Anyway, this trip was my first chance in over a year to get some time away from my honors project and I (mistakenly) thought that I would enjoy the time away…however, I found that I ended up mentally revising sections in accordance with some of the new information I was learning in both my classes as well as the excursions; I have notes, but I am hesitant to add new information since I am far into the editing process.  I also found that I spent, unexpectedly, a great deal of time on that Friday wishing that my advisor was present to see what I was seeing, and I wished as I have said in another post, to have had the ability to see how him and Manuel would have interacted…in other words, I surprised myself to find I missed him terribly…which is ironic considering I thought this trip was supposed to be a “vacation” away from everything. (Thankfully, for my sake, I believe he is sick enough of my writing at this point where I have severe doubt he would have gotten this far in the post to read this…)  It makes sense considering most of what I’ve learned or seen has directly pertained to classes of I’ve taken of his.  Chances are, if I visited Egypt or some Sumerian ruins, I might have wished for Dr. Radine to be present equally as much for similar reasons!

I think another part was I believe my same advisor was initially planning on joining us on this trip, and sometimes, I wonder if the reason my thoughts tend towards these directions is that he was actually “meant” to be here.

If nothing else, if that was indeed the case, I would hope that some of these posts serve as a stand-in (albeit likely an inferior one!) for whatever wisdom he could have imparted here- and also, perhaps- writing these as I have been could make it easier for me when the semester starts up again and I present these finding to my Religion department to then get whatever questions I have now answered by him at that time.  I know if I did not write in this as consistently as I do, I would likely forget much of what I experienced.

Anyway, here is the link for the rest of the photos I took of the sights and sites in Cordoba- Click me

…and here I leave you for the evening with this interesting shot:

Another view of the Quibla wall- now with complicated arches!


Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “Friday in Cordoba…Madinat et Al-Zahra and the Great Mosque (Cathedral) of Cordoba.

  1. joni

    October 20, 2011 at 6:56 am

    For the record-the “treasure room” was made into thus by the muslims, every mosque has one. It’s purpose is not to show off but use the “treasure” to pay for things needed by the mosque and give to the needy. Giving part of your riches is required of the muslim faith to uphold their “five pillars”.

    • Raven

      October 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm

      Thank you for the correction- I forgot to mention about Zakat! However, that particular mosque is now a cathedral 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: