I grab every opportunity to hop on high-speed trains whenever I can and on a whim this morning, took the AVE high Cordoba from Sevilla Santa Justa (a mere 45 minutes that covers 150 km) to see the Mezquita – only to find out after a trek of 20 minutes from the Cordoba station to the old town that the Cathedral/Mosque would only be open to visitors from 3.30 pm – 7 pm.
Today is some kind of Catholic holiday (the woman at the tourist office found it way too difficult to explain what kind of holiday they were celebrating and thus left it as that), and elaborate processions/services were underway.
Hanging around the area however, does have its benefits.
I fully expected to see a grand procession coming out of the cathedral, complete with suited gentlemen, and military men bearing flags. What I did not expect was the sudden surge of the crowd at 11am or so to shove their way into the Mezquita for some kind of service. Carried with the tide of the pushing and shoving elderly, it appears that I got in after all – without needing to pay for the 8 Euro entry fee – along with a few hundred other curious tourists.
As with Granada’s La Alhambra, the Mezquita’s interior is both an intoxicating mix of moorish and christian architecture – elegant islamic arches and then an altar in front on which hangs all forms of statues of the blessed virgin, a reminder as well of an age when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in an unimaginable clash of cultures. Intended as a mosque, the Mezquita’s construction began in 785 A.D., and would go on for another few centuries until extensions like the orange tree courtyard and the outer naves gave the Mezquita its current dimensions today. It was only when Ferdinand III recaptured Cordoba in 1236 was the mosque used as a cathedral where it remains today.
Still, there wasn’t time to dally.
I wandered surreptitiously around the corridors and gawked at its red-and-white-coloured giant arches that rested on 856 columns, marvelled quietly and then hightailed it out of there before a priest could throw me out.