In Córdoba, ‘Mosque-Cathedral’ Reflects Clash of Faiths
Why does someone always have to stir the pot? People are going to come from thousands of miles away to see this world famous instantly recognizable tourist attraction, then they’re suddenly going to get “confused” by freaking hyphenated signs? Seriously?
CÓRDOBA, Spain — The great mosque of Córdoba was begun by the Muslim caliphs in the eighth century, its forest of pillars and red-and-white striped arches meant to convey a powerful sense of the infinite. With the Christian reconquest of Spain in the 13th century, it was consecrated as a cathedral.
Today, signs throughout this whitewashed Andalusian city refer to the monument, a Unesco World Heritage site, as the “mosque-cathedral” of Córdoba. But that terminology is now in question. Last month, the bishop of Córdoba began a provocative appeal for the city to stop referring to the monument as a mosque so as not to “confuse” visitors.
For now, the matter is largely semantic because the mayor says the city will not change its signs. But the debate goes far beyond signs. It is the latest chapter in the rich history of the most emblematic monument in Christian-Muslim relations in Europe — and a tussle over the legacy of “Al Andalus,” when part of Spain, under the Muslim caliphs, was a place of complex coexistence among Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Today, the legacy of Al Andalus is highly contested. While Osama bin Laden and other radicals have called repeatedly for the return of Al Andalus to Muslim hands — that is, for the Islamic reconquest of Spain and implicitly Europe — others look to Al Andalus as an almost utopian era of peaceful coexistence among Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The city also has a rich Jewish history. Maimonides, the 12th-century Jewish polymath philosopher, was born in Córdoba, in a modest white house in the Judería, now a tourist area where the local Jewish population lived before Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.
In the following century, when Spain’s Catholic rulers took to destroying Muslim and Jewish places of worship, the Hapsburg emperor Charles V is said to have been so captivated by the beauty of the Córdoba monument that he ordered its preservation.
Local officials say they have no intention of changing the signs. “The bishop’s statement creates an unnecessary and useless polemic,” said the mayor of Córdoba, Andrés Ocaña, from the United Left party. “It has no support among people, and obviously not among politicians, not even from the Popular Party,” he added, referring to the center-right opposition.