National Geographic : 1988 Jul
C6rdoba's pride today is its venerable Mezquita, or mosque, which in 1986 celebrated its 1,200th anniversary. Begun by the first Abd-al Rahman, it was enlarged and embellished to become what is consid ered today the epitome of Moorish architecture. From its quiet Patio of the Orange Trees, past fountains where the faithful once performed their ablutions, I entered the 600-by-450-foot shrine, rivaling in size Islam's holiest in Mecca. As my eyes grew ac customed to the darkness, I wandered through the forest of jasper, marble, and porphyry columns, some 850, that support the tracery of double-tiered Moorish arches. Nineteen doorways, before they were walled up, let in light and air and extended the theme of the columns to the rows of orange trees in the courtyard. My footsteps led me to the mosque's domed mihrab, or prayer niche. From behind its scalloped marble arches, amid the splendid mosaics designed by Byzantine craftsmen, C6rdoba's rulers once led Friday prayers. Flowing Arabic calligraphy adorning the walls exalt ed C6rdoba: ". . . praise to Allah who led us to this place. ... " In the dim vastness I hardly noticed the cathedral. After the Chris tian Reconquest, Catholics reconsecrated the Mezquita as a church and for 300 years held services there. Then the clergy persuaded Em peror Charles V to raise a cathedral in its midst, despite strong protests from city leaders. Later, inspecting the baroque incursion, Charles confessed disappointment: "By installing something that is common place, you have destroyed what was once unique." From smaller parish churches issue the spirit and spectacle of C6r doba's Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Thousands of C6rdobans line narrow streets and wrought-iron balconies to watch the processions. Their religious intensity reflects the passion that drove medieval Christians to oust their Moorish occupiers. Twenty churches participate, circulating about 50 pasos, or plat forms, set with ornate statuary. "Different scenes each day recall the Madonna, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Burial," explained a C6rdoban friend, Luis-Eduardo Prieto Rico. We finished our fried squid and garlic shrimp at El Triunfo, a small restaurant near the Mezquita, then wedged into the throng at the Plaza de las Tendillas to witness one of the processions. To the beat of distant drums, the solemn escort arrived: files of 200 or more penitentes, ghostlike in long robes cinched with ropes and tall pointed hoods. Most carried long flickering tapers or swung smoking silver censers; others bent under heavy oaken crosses. Behind marched women of the parish veiled in black lace mantillas. The drums grew louder as the paso appeared from around the corner, in a blaze of light, swaying with the measured footsteps of some 30 bearers straining beneath it. The life-size Virgin sat draped in lace and rich brocades above banks of fresh white roses that perfumed the air. A hundred enormous candles set her silver halo aglitter and caught the sparkle of tears on her radiant face. The drums stopped, the paso paused, and suddenly a woman in the crowd broke into song, a passionate saeta, the flamenco hymn for which Andalusia is famous. The words were Spanish, but the mourn ful melody echoed Arab and Gypsy origins: Like the precious stones of ajeweler, The tears thatflood your lovely eyes .... The stunning solo had its effect; throughout the applauding crowd When the Moors Ruled Spain INTRICATECARVINGDECORATESAN IVORYBOX, 7 INCHES HIGH. MUSEOARQUEOL6GICO NACIONAL, MADRID.BOTH BY VICTORR. BOSWELL,JR.