Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mosque-Church-Tourism Cash Cow of Andalucia

I was pleasantly surprised to this article on the NYTimes website yesterday. It brought back memories of my trip throughout Spain in early May, which was one of my fondest trips for reasons beyond the grandeur of La Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba.

Basically the bishop doesn't want people to drop "mosque" from any references to the present day Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.
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.
I was less surprised to learn that the church doesn't want visitors to call it a mosque or even a mosque-church. When I visited in May, it was obvious that the church has an uneasy relationship with their building's history from the pamphlet/maps distributed to visitors. Unfortunately I don't have these pamphlets to quote to you, I know, bad that I don't have evidence to backup my claims. My travel companion can back this up.

The language taking great pains to emphasize both the cathedral's Catholic past and present. It's obvious that the church's past was a mosque. Most people come to see La Mezquita as an exquisite example of Moorish architecture. But the church wants the visitors to know that this site was first a church before the mosque was built. This fact prominent in the pamphlet and in the site itself. The foundations of the 7th century church have been excavated. Near the center of the mosque-church visitors can peer down to see the ruined foundations of the 7th century church. A placard prominently tells visitors this fact.

Tthe language of the pamphlet emphasized the glory of the church after its consecration as a cathedral. There was also a line, I can't recall precisely, that basically said that the Moors weren't all happy and multicultural and tolerant as everyone thought they were. Really, it said this. The tone of the pamphlet was like this: This building  happened to be a mosque sometime ago but you really shouldn't care about it so much. It was a church first. It's a church now. That stuff in between, Moors or savages or whatever, that doesn't really matter. Silly tourists.

I know that it's the church's prerogative to print whatever pamphlet it wants. The visitors have no choice but to read it because it includes a map showing the location of the mihrab, a must see. But this one seemed much preachier than other mosque-turned-church-historic-tourist site pamphlets I read elsewhere in Spain.

Finally, it's not confusing to visitors that the building is no longer a mosque. First, we're in Spain. It's very Catholic. Second, there is a giant altar with a giant crucifix from which hangs a giant Jesus. Third, there all along the perimeter are shiny golden chapels with figures of saints. It's obviously a church. No one is getting confused, as the bishop claims. [I didn't take any photos of these because I had severe church fatigue. Couldn't take any more Jesuses or Virgin Marys.]

Maybe the Mosque-Cathedral should be turned over to the Spanish ministry or culture or tourism the way Hagia Sophia has to the Turkish government. But no, that won't happen in Spain.

*The #1 tourism cash cow of Andalucia is actually Alhambra. Tickets are really expensive (like 15 or 20 euro) and booked weeks in advance. But La Mezquita is definitely worth seeing. My travel companion convinced me to go here with her. It was a decision I do no regret.

Blogger needs a confirmation page before actually posting. ARG. Did an incoherent draft show up in your RSS readers? I think so. That's embarrassing. I apologize.

Secular Córdoba

red and white arches


Khalid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Khalid said...

I remember reading about a few muslims who got arrested for praying in some corner of that church.

CYW said...

This is the sort of thing we'd discuss in JMC forever.

I didn't talk about all the issues here, only my personal experience visiting. I certainly got the feeling that the church didn't like Andalucia's Moorish past, to say the least.

I think the city doesn't want to change the name not so much because they care about history, religious tolerance, multicultural society, etc. but because otherwise tourists will be confused and they won't go to Cordoba.