There stands a magnificent building on the slope above the Guadalquivir river in the southern hills. It looks grotesque in the southern swelter, no matter what angle the visitor approaches it. The deliberate ascertain of power just does not fit the purpose of the building, that is, to contemplate God. The structure is not just a reminder of what has passed in history but what is to come and this building holds the secrets of humanity paving the way we are with different faiths in the world.
Abd Rahman I. flee Syria because the Abbasids destroyed her family in Damascus. When he arrived in Andalus, it was everything Syria was not, lush, green and fertile lands showing the possibilities of a new life. He fell on a familiar pattern. Following his love for his land which he wrote about in a poem, he wanted to build a place to establish a focal point to worship.
“A palm tree stands in the middle of Rusafa*,
Born in the West, far from the land of palms.
I said to it: how like me, you are, far away, in exile,
In long separation form family and friends.
You have sprung from soil in which you are a stranger,
And I, like you, am far from home”
(* A mysterious , ancient city south of Euphrates in Syria, a summer palace where his family retreat was destroyed and his family killed)
The Arabs are well known for their manly love for poetry, unembarrassed and proud. Without judging or analysing the artistic value of the poem we can clearly see the central thought that led him to this poem- exile and establishing a new life on a foreign land, many Syrians carry in their DNA even today. Being uprooted was the main drive of founding places of familiarity, context and coherence on the land of Andalus. The Great Mosque of Damascus gave a model to follow. Being bought half and built as a shared prayer space with the Christian community, years later the whole site was purchased providing a full time prayer place for the growing community.
As an Umayyad, Abd Rahman I. did not want to destroy existing buildings, he did what his fellow men did in Damascus and purchased the site, a Christian church, previously a Roman temple and ordered the commencement of the mezquita. This is, in all effect, was a gesture to express that building is more important than destruction as well as shows an understanding that a multi-ethnic and religiously pluralistic state was under his hand that he could not mess with. There was a lot at stake. The building of the mezquita set the tone for the Andalus project as a continuation of what was essentially destroyed in Syria.
The columns and the pillars were all recycled, borrowed from the ruins of Gothic churches and Roman buildings. They continued Roman construction methods alternating brick and stone. Abd Rahman I. was a vigorous young man when he arrived and grew into a powerful sovereign by the time he reached old age. A little like the building of the mezquita, he grew old with increasing power. The building has matured into a landmark known and celebrated all over Andalus and beyond.
The mezquita continued to be built for the next two hundred years, nearly until the year 1000. Its growth was showing in situ, what was happening in Andalus throughout those years. The original design with horseshoe arches in red and white resemble the roman aqueduct in Merida, a town near Cordoba. The arches, looking like a palm tree when observed from the ground, offer a sense of elation and beauty of a fertile land. They even look like sunrays in perfect stillness and equilibrium, a basis of Islamic belief that encourages its followers to find and cultivate that stillness in prayer and in life. The geometric patterns encapsulate what is most central to Muslim- the thought that the world is a perpetual and rhythmical change. Life is constant and ever evolving, just like patterns on the wall, following some patterns yet are unpredictable to the eye.
The mezquita incorporates not only history but a substantial growth of power of the brains behind its expansion into a remarkable synonym for power, confidence, elegance and respect for other cultures. Abd Rahman I’s legacy is just like the legacy of the Great Mosque of Cordoba. It is imposing, confident and demanding, a message Europe did not like to witness.
Today the Cathedral-Mezquita is a summary of the history and the relationship Europe has with Islam. It spells something like this: We like the exoticism of your faith but we do not wish to accommodate your demand to be present. We like to be surrounded by beautiful buildings but we use them for tourist purposes and we do not need to embrace that building holding power. We admire from far but fearful deep inside that one day this building might mean more to you, Muslims that we are capable of handling.