Sunday, May 10, 2009

Conquerors and Conquered - Cordoba and Sevilla



Andalucia is in so many ways such a pleasant place - the sun, the flowers, the outdoor terraces. But I'm also deeply troubled and unhappy by overlays of religion and culture in such an ancient land. It is easy in Canada to espouse ecumenical, multicultural beliefs. You can hold some comfortable ceremony that doesn't interfere with how you live your life. Andalucia displays, in very concrete terms, some of the faultliness that underly the transition from one culture to another and from one religion to another.
I visited the Mezquita in Cordoba this afternoon. It is a strange juxtaposition of Islam and Catholicism. When Abd al-Rahman fled Syria and conquered southern Spain, he built a mezquita to celebrate. And he built it on the site of a Visigoth temple. The mosque was expanded over the next two centuries and I wish I could have seen it. The mosque was open to the courtyard along the north side. Inside were row upon row of columns and double arches. A vast space that at its largest could hold over 12,000 worshippers. But then the Catholics came and conquered Cordoba. And they decided to build a cathedral in the centre of the mosque. They made chapels out of the side arches and lumped a high altar and choir stalls in the middle. There are no walls separating the two areas - you walk straight from the arched mosque to the Catholic church. It feels very wrong to me. And it's not true ecumenism - imagine if the Muslim population said they wanted to worship in the mosque alongside the Catholics - not a chance!

There are similar contradictions in Sevilla. The cathedral is an absolutely huge monstrosity (yes, I'm showing my prejudices), and the bell tower is built around the Arab minaret. It is also built with the gold and riches from the Americas. For me, it still holds memories of the death of the Indian population in the Americas and the Inquisition and conversion of Jews and Arabs in Spain. There is blood on the stones.

And yet, here am I - one of the colonialists who now inhabit the New World. Am I any better?

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