Reuse of Religious Sites (Part II)

In my post of 2008.11.10, I discussed a common phenomenon: the reuse of religious sites. In that post, I covered the Umayyad Mosque, a Pagan to Christian to Muslim conversion in Damascus; the Ayasofya, one of the greater Christian churches ever built, and now mosque/museum; and the Selimiye Mosque, an almost comical cathedral-turned-mosque in Cyprus. (That post is probably worth reading for some background and general thoughts on the practice.) Now a few months further into our trip, I thought I would revisit that topic, with some more examples.

Andalucia, Spain, where we are now, is one of the relatively few regions in the world where Islam (a relatively recent religion, compared to others) was at once dominant, but then overwhelmed by another faith. (The part of Palestine that is now Israel and parts of India come to mind as the only other major examples–other places that went Muslim stayed Muslim.)

Arab/Muslim influence on Spanish culture is not to be underestimated. In architecture, the decorative arts, language, music, dance and countless other aspects of civilization, the footprint of the Muslim period–after all, more than seven hundred years of history–is almost everywhere in Spain (and the New World, through Spain). Such iconic elements of Spanish culture such as ceramic tiling, flamenco and the cheer “Olé” are from the Muslim era in Iberia, as are words such as alcazar (al qasr) and ojalá (Allah). The mix of Christian Spanish and Muslim Arab brought us the great scientific and philosophical flowering called la Convivencia, which some believe helped usher in the European Renaissance through its introduction of classical and Eastern teachings into Western Europe. The Inquisition was successful in destroying this peaceful coexistence and its benefits, but even if essentially no Muslims (or Jews) were to remain in Spain, the brick and mortar of countless mosques survived the transition–as churches.

I am saving the greatest example of mosque-turned-church, the Mezquita or Great Mosque of Cordoba, for the next post, but below are pictures of other mosques and religious structures from the Muslim era, reused through to the present.

The church of Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda may originally have been a Roman pagan temple and then a Christian church, but its most recent past life as a mosque is immortalized in the remains of a mihrab, visible inside.

Many church steeples in southern Spain clearly had past lives as minarets. The most celebrated is the tower of the Seville Cathedral, called La Giralda (first image), which is almost identical, save reornamentation on the uppermost levels, to the other minarets built by the Morocco-based Almoravids, such as the Koutoubia in Marrakesh (second image).

Below, a lesser minaret/steeple at San Sebastian church in Ronda

The minaret/steeple of San Juan church in Cordoba clearly reveals its much older age, compared to the rest of the church.

The minaret/steeple of San Marcos church in Seville. There are countless more examples.

Minarets are often the most recognizable survivors–presumably because the Christians found it convenient to keep such significant and majestic features, while they were willing to build a new church alongside–but other features also remain. Near the Giralda in Seville, a domed “koubba” of clearly Moorish origin (first image). A similar Almoravid “koubba” in Marrakesh that was part of the Ben Youssef Mosque complex was used for ablutions (second image).

The courtyard of the Seville Cathedral, known as the Plaza de las Naranjas (note that the Spanish–and English–words for the orange, like the fruit itself, came to the West through Persian/Arabic) clearly occupies the remaining open part of the main courtyard of the old mosque (compare to the courtyard of Cairo’s Mosque of ibn Tulun in the second picture below).

The use of the Moorish style in the interior of this chapel in San Pedro church of Seville argues that such styles can be said to be very much Spanish and in some sense native to Spain–as suitable for use in decorating a church as a mosque. Mozarabs (Christians living in Arab Iberia) and Mudejares (Muslims living in Christian Iberia) bridged a synthesis of culture that resulted in some of the greatest notes of la Convivencia, such as the Alhambra (post to come).

2 thoughts on “Reuse of Religious Sites (Part II)

  1. You probably already know this, but seriously stunning photographs. Where we live I haven't seen any conversions–it's strictly separate, but religions manage to co-exist peacefully for the most part.

  2. Pingback: Classic Posts | Paul's Travel Blog

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