la mezquita

Today was a definite highlight. We woke up in Córdoba, a beautiful old city that somehow manages to feel intimate, like a village that you’ve lived in for months. It was early, and the rain had just stopped falling. Out on the street the air was cool, dirty puddles resting between the ancient cobbles.

I set off with a spring in my step, a determination that even the frequent churros signs couldn’t dampen. La mezquita was only a few short blocks away. I was so excited. I had studied this mosque for years, read so many poems and stories about it, seen so many photographs. To be honest, I was excited to put my usually redundant specialized knowledge to use. Majoring in Spanish was wonderfully enlightening, but not altogether useful in everyday life. As we rounded into the courtyard, full of orange trees and living fountains, my footsteps quickened, almost into an excitable skip. We smiled at the lone guard and strolled past him, in through the heavy metal doors, feeling the temperature change as we walked through.

And all of a sudden we were there, surrounded by those high stone arches. Tears pricked at my eyes instantly, and I gazed up at them, hungrily trying to see it all, soak it all in. It was exactly the way it looked in the photos, a labyrinth of red and white striped stone, a surreal whirl of colours and angles, a veritable trip-fest for the eyes. It was hard for my mind to understand that I was actually here. In this place so full of history, filled with the exhaled breath and sweat and loving design of hundreds of people over hundreds of years. The smooth marble pillars are stained black at hand height, where thousands of people have brushed against them, ran their fingers over the cool stone. I do it too, and marvel at the knowledge that someone did the same, so many years ago.

On the walls there are both Islamic and Christian designs, and the polished geometric tiles contrast strangely against the gaudy gold figures that flank them. In the midst of the sea of arches rises a huge Christian cathedral, perhaps built there as a final strike of the conquest, a last insult to the Moors that they drove out. Or maybe it was just their way of amplifying the original beauty of this ancient mosque.

I lost track of time in there. It was so quiet, the silence so reverent that I didn’t want to leave. Somehow the polished floors reverberated all of the sound, only for the arches above to swallow it up again, into the expectant stone. I wondered how many conversations those walls had heard, how many storms they had weathered. When we left we were still in awe, and even as I stared out of the train windows hours later, I still had the outline of those beautiful stone pillars imprinted on my mind.

Tonight we are in a hostel in Granada, and the rain is falling again. I can hear its soft patter on the metal tables outside, and see the abandoned hammocks hanging from the wet trees. Tomorrow we will line up to see the Alhambra, and I know that somehow it will manage to compare with today’s breathtaking visit to la mezquita.

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