Nowadays, Cordoba (also spelled Cordova in English) is the third largest city in Andalucia, but before that it was the seat of art and culture in the area for centuries. It started out as a Roman settlement, but was later taken over by Visigoths, followed by Muslims in the 8th century. By the 10th century, it was the second largest city in all of Europe. In 1994, the incredible mosque-cathedral (known as La Mezquita) in the old city center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, followed later by the entire neighborhood.
At one end, you have La Juderia (the Jewish Quarter). From the 10th to the 15th century, this neighborhood was home to Cordoba’s Jewish population. At that time, the region was under Islamic rule, so both Jews and Christians were minorities. Until the Reconquista reached the Southern edge of Spain in 1492, the three populations appeared to live in relative peace together in Cordoba, though there were separate court systems.
We stayed in the Juderia during our visit, and had a great time wandering around the narrow alleys and side streets on the way home from the Roman Temple the first night. The next morning, we got another taste as we made our way to La Mezquita (mosque).
Finding out about this fascinating place and time when three different religions and cultures co-existed was foundational to my own education, and even my love life. When I got to college, I was deeply curious about different cultures, which led me to start taking anthropology courses. But it was the co-listed Religious Studies and Classic course, “Pagans, Christians, and Jews,” that brought me to my husband. He’s an ancient historian, so it made perfect sense for him to be there, but if it wasn’t for my trip to Spain when I was 16, I probably wouldn’t have looked twice. You never know how travel will affect your life!
The layout of La Mezquita changed a few times over the centuries. The website has some great resources for anyone interested in doing a deep dive into the history. I, however, want to share the pure joy of the aesthetics. You enter the garden first, which has lovely water features and clean lines like other Islamic buildings.
Notice how empty the streets are outside? It was about 10AM, which I am sure meant some people were in bed. But I think the specter of Covid-19 had more to do with it. This is one of the foremost tourist attractions in the country, and we could hardly even find a cafe open on the plaza to get our morning cappuccino!
But as beautiful as the neighborhood is in general, the interior of La Mezquita took my breath away. You wander through a forest of columns and striped arches, and then you look up and get to take in the fantastic ceilings. There is also some stained glass, which cast lovely colors on the floors.
Originally, this space would have been far brighter, but most of what used to be entry archways were closed up when the building was converted to a cathedral. Though much of the original architecture was preserved, including an incredible mihrab (an arch that indicates the direction of Mecca), the center was ripped out and replaced over the course of centuries. The original naves were also replaced by Christian chapels and artwork.