April 21, 2014

Blurred Lines

I have been around the world in fourteen days.

Well, okay, so I lied—but after two weeks of trekking through four cities and two islands, sleeping in hostels and airport terminals, living out of a well-worn duffel and hauling it on ferries, trains, buses, and endless walks, it sure feels like it. I spent my spring break in Spain, dividing my time between Granada, Córdoba, Sevilla, the Canary Islands, and Barcelona before finally returning to Rabat last night.

It feels like a lifetime since I was last in Morocco. At first, the difference between Spain and Morocco is as clear as night and day: wine and tapas replace tea and pastries. Rather than stray cats, sleek and well-groomed dogs trot through the streets, followed by their equally glamorous owners in stilettos and designer sunglasses. Church bells sound at midday instead of the call to prayer. But to me, these differences are only skin-deep. Spain and Morocco, only a few miles apart across the Strait of Gibraltar, share a rich and complicated history that reveal more similarities than I expected.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Mezquita, also known as the Great Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba. Originally a mosque during medieval Islamic rule in Southern Spain, the Mezquita was repurposed into a Roman-Catholic cathedral after Christians successfully conquered Córdoba in the early thirteenth century. Yet, given the overwhelming Muslim presence in the area, a wary compromise was reached in which the beloved mosque remained intact and the new cathedral was simply inserted within.

Interior of the Great Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain

The result? Crucifixes and statues of saints nestled among seemingly endless rows of Islamic arches and columns; stained glass windows next to the ornately engraved wall facing Mecca; a bizarre (and somewhat unnerving) clash of two vastly different religious architectures, each beautiful in its own right. A city where the Catholic Church rules, yet at each sunrise a lone voice sings the call to prayer, more for symbolism than actual function.

Spain and Morocco. Morocco and Spain. Two countries hurled onto completely different trajectories through history, with opposing ideas of the truth; blame it on religion, politics, or culture, but here in the Mezquita, these distinctions lose their force. And, when these barriers dividing East and West, Europe and Arab, and Christian and Muslim fall away, what else is left?

posted in Susanna Kim

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