La Mezquita, Cordoba

Monday 05 Sep 2011

Mystery in Andalucía as history reinvents itself...

“Isn’t your dad an architect?” Zoe had been deep in thought, and her friend’s question pulled her back into the stifling heat of the Cathedral-Mosque. Everyone knew Zoe’s father, Rob Gilbert was an architect. He was always in the news. Even now, just last week, bodies had been found at his Olympic site in London. Why his site?

“Yeah why?” her friend was taken aback by the sudden hostility.

“Just thought he might have been interested in this…” Zoe was irritated again that her friends all liked her dad. Everyone liked her dad. Was this why her relationship with her father was so dysfunctional? Was she jealous? Ever since she had come across the word dysfunctional in a sociology class at college, she had applied it to her own family.

Zoe had actually been thinking exactly the same thought, her father was interested in this building. In fact he had already told her a lot about its background; this city, once the most populous city in the world, and the Western world's greatest centre of intellectual and artistic culture.

She hadn’t expected to be interested; it was just an old building. But now here, within the thousand year old shell, there was something about the vast vaulted ceilings, the musty ancient smell, the sheer majesty and scale.. something, the form? It had power. A power that was getting to her. She found this new sensation a bit spooky but still she wanted to explore it in her own time, unencumbered by other people.

“Whatever,” she retorted and plugged her earphones , retrieved her bottle of coke from an alcove and walked off.

Free again, she let her eyes pour over vast spaces, there was something seductive about the proportions, something just felt right. A shiver went down her spine as realised that she was connecting with a message being sent from millennia ago. She was interpreting a message that the architect had coded into the structure.

Wandering aimlessly between the forest of columns she could almost feel the weight being transferred from the ceiling vaults down into the giant arches running the length of the building and then down through its 856 supporting jasper-and-marble columns. Down, deep into the ground. Unlike modern buildings hidden behind glass facades, she could see how this this building worked. Beauty and power. She took another swig of her coke, it tasted surprisingly warmer than when she had put it down, she reached out and touched one of the columns and felt a vibration, a tremor, and spun around trying to identify the source, her growing fever fusing sound and vibration. At first she thought it was an earthquake but as it died suddenly, she knew, she recognised it as just a motorbike outside.

As she approached a gaggle of people, for no known reason she unplugged her earphones. The tour guide was talking in stilted English with a strong accent that she couldn’t make out. The guide’s voice echoed in the hall’s strange acoustics. The group looked like they were mainly Europeans but there was one Chinese man who kept looking at her. He seemed strangely familiar. Weirdo.

Zoe pretended to read her guide book and tuned in to the voice, “The building was originally a Visigothic Christian church before the Moors took over and al-Andalus was born, marking the start of 300 years of Islam rule, Cordoba became the capital of Islamic Caliphate. The church was initially converted to a mosque before a new one was built in its place. When the Christians retook the Iberian peninsula and ejected the Islamic forces it once again became a Catholic Cathedral and remained so for 800 years." Until now. The guide told her group that pressure was building after a ban was reinstated forbidding Muslim prayers in the building. Only last year two security guards were seriously injured when they tried to stop a group of Muslims from praying.

She became aware that her thoughts were becoming a bit muddled, flu? The waves of mild delirium were strangely, not altogether unpleasing. Some of her senses were heightened as she took another swig of coke.

Zoe remembered her dad enthusing about this city being on the front line of conflict between Christianity and Islam over a thousand years ago. For no apparent reason, she suddenly missed him. She wished more than anything that he was there with her now.

She morphed almost unnoticed into the group as it meandered around the building. She learned how the tides of religions had left their mark on this great hulk of a structure, from church to mosque and back again. But this wasn’t just history, the building had become a focus of conflict since 9/11. It was history reinventing itself.

Again she experienced the spine chilling sensation as she found that she was becoming drawn into the architecture. It was like discovering a new band or piece of music for the first time and knowing, yes just knowing that it would be a forever favourite. But this was more, much more, for Zoe knew that with this new discovery, she was also building a connection with her father.

But countering the euphoria of her newfound interest was a growing awareness that she was being watched. She became increasingly uneasy, not wanting to look at the freaky Chinese man. Every time she scanned the hall for her friends he seemed to have got nearer but this time she couldn’t see him anywhere and breathed a sigh of relief.

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