Along with the rest of the Southern half of Spain, Córdoba is split into three different quarters of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. Surrounding the great mosque of Córdoba is the old Jewish quarter where Jews were able to live in peace within their communities. Although there has not been much of a Jewish presence in this country since the expulsion of 1492, the neighborhood has not forgotten its heritage. We began our adventure of the city in the Great Mosque. The mosque itself is quite a symbol of the history of Spain that can be easily seen within its architecture. In the 9th century, the building was commissioned as a mosque for the growing Muslim community in Córdoba and started off with just a few candy cane stripped arches and the iconic Muslim altar facing Meca. As the centuries progressed, it was expanded and the Muslim population met regularly within its walls to commune with Allah. However, after the reconquest the Spanish king and queen added a small chapel to the building and dedicated it to Catholicism. This was a very common thing as they attempted to reclaim the country for Christianity. It wasn’t until the 17th century when King Phillip instituted a plan to plant a large cathedral directly in the center of the building, knocking out nearly 300 arches. This is a great metaphor for the reconquest of the country in the late 1400’s. Following the Inquisition, all who would not convert to Christianity were expelled from Spain. This meant that many had to leave behind their beloved mosque and the Jewish synagogue (one of only 3 in Spain) in the hands of the Christians. I like to think that I would choose explosion rather than to allow my core beliefs to be taken from me, but I cannot imagine the pain these people felt as they walked away from their homes that their families had lived in for literally centuries. It must have been much like losing a family member and all connections you have to your ancestors.
The mosque was a never ending maze of arches that cast upon me such awe that I couldn’t help but whisper my conversations and look towards Meca in reverence. And although the catholic cathedral made me quite frustrated, I couldn’t help but marvel at its intricacies and symbolism. Afterward our tour of the mosque, we eagerly picked our way through the Jewish quarter, soaking in the large patios filled with flowers; tripping over the stone ladened streets; and marveling inside the only synagogue in Córdoba. As the sun descended behind the far off hills, once again the city began to show its true personality. My impression is that it isn’t the same vibe as Granada. Though it was certainly busier at night, it lacked the ordered chaos that came from the gypsy lifestyle. This was the slow, socializing, tapa eating Spain of my imagination. The older part of the city houses the older generation that enjoys the calm atmosphere of nights that stretch forever in idle conversation and relaxing after a long work day. Crossing the river transformed the rhythm more into the vibrancy I have come to associate with Madrid. I found many interesting aspects in both cultures, tried all the typical tapas and pastries of the city, and found Cordoba to be small, but quite charming.