Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Mezquita

May 26, Day 8
On our way from Costa del Sol, we stopped at Cordoba to tour the Mezquita. Our itinerary urges us to “walk through the forest of 850 red-and-white candy striped columns [should say arches] and view the brilliant Byzantine mosaics.” It adds, “the most fascinating part of the mosque may be the 16th century Christian Cathedral which sits in the middle, disturbing the architectural harmony.”

I didn’t get to hear a lot from our local guide, partly because of the crowd and acoustics. There was some long involved tale about the leader who fled here from Syria, recruited regional tribes, took power, and then built this mosque. Because of his own politics, he built the mosque not facing Mecca, but parallel to his home mosque in Syria.

Interesting architectural details here. The guide talked about the various marbles and granites that made up the columns, the subtle differences in sections of the mosque added later, and then the Christian revisions. There are two columns made of fluted alabaster. The guide demonstrated how this material is translucent, which she connected with some spiritual principle. She did the same with John’s fingers, showing how they also let light through. (I had intended to use this later in our play, with a flashlight behind John’s head, but alas, that detail didn’t get worked in.)

I liked the descriptions of the mosaic bits that formed the midrab, which google won't define for me, but seemed to be a specifically more holy place in the mosque. Our guide said that some pieces were layered glass-gold-glass; the blue sections were lapis lazuli; and so on, with precious materials coloring each section. And there is an interesting display of plaster casts of the signature marks of the many, many stone masons who worked on columns and arches.

And then the Christian parts, later additions sprung from the changes in empire. Our guide coyly told us how the 1745 earthquake only cracked the Christian sections, suggesting that these architectural barbarians got what they deserved. We saw a towering St. Peter holding the keys to heaven. We saw a huge painting of Frederick I, in his re-conquest of Spain, dressed in the armor that the much later painter knew and with the halo he wouldn’t be sainted with until five centuries after his death. (Perhaps there’s hope for me yet. Remember me in the year 2525...)

Our guide lamented how much had been stolen by Napoleon’s forces as he conquered his way across Europe (I heard the same thing in Malta, how much had been stripped from the cathedrals there, as Napoleon worked his way to Egypt).

And then in the center, that cathedral added in the 16th century. Our guide lamented how this destroyed the symmetry of the whole mosque, how it interrupted the view of the red-and-white stone arches receding in planned perspective. But perhaps by this point in mosque-cathedral saturation, I didn’t share her lament. I felt some relief from the so carefully planned symmetry. I liked the sudden sky-looming openness at the center.

Then back on the bus, when I started draining my laptop battery, working on the play--and on to Seville.
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