One hundred experts criticize state of Córdoba’s monumental mosque

Appropriated by the Catholic Church in 2006, Unesco heritage site is losing Islamic identity

Carmen Morán Breña
Tourists visiting the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.
Tourists visiting the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba.alejandro ruesga

One hundred experts from 36 universities have signed a document expressing concern over the use that the Catholic Church is making of the Mezquita de Córdoba, a landmark building in southern Spain that has been the subject of controversy over its ownership and partisan use.

The scholars who have undersigned the statement are historians, medievalists and experts in Arabic culture led by Eduardo Manzano, a researcher at the state-funded Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).

The mosque was built over an older church by Abd al-Rahman I in the late eighth century, during the Arab occupation of Spain. It is one of the biggest draws for visitors to Córdoba and, along with the adjoining cathedral, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

New bathrooms were built next to the mihrab of Al-Hakam II, a prayer spot facing Mecca

Now officially known as the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, scholars feel that the Catholic hierarchy has turned the site into “a mere tool for the initiation of novices.”

In 2006, the Catholic Church registered the historic site as its own for just a few euros, using a Franco-era piece of legislation that for decades allowed bishops to claim properties across Spain without the need to provide documentary evidence of ownership. That law has since been reformed.

In an opinion piece published in EL PAÍS in April, manifesto leader Manzano already noted that the Spanish government has spent “over eight million euros on the mosque’s maintenance,” and that it should be able to prove that the monument is public property and does not belong to the Church.

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The scholars also criticize the “apathy” of the central and Andalusian governments, whose job it is to preserve and promote Spain’s historical legacy as per the Spanish Constitution.

When it emerged that Catholic officials had appropriated the site, citizen activists got organized to claim the building back for the people, but so far they have had little success. While these critics are not asking for the temple to stop officiating Catholic Mass, they want its historic, architectural and cultural elements to be preserved and acknowledged.

Alarms first went off when all signs of the temple’s Islamic past began to disappear. The millions of brochures that get handed out to tourists began referring to it simply as the Cathedral of Córdoba.

Then, note the scholars, one of the entrance doors was altered to enable Easter procession Christ and Virgin figures to pass through, and new bathrooms were built next to the mihrab of Al-Hakam II, a prayer spot facing Mecca.

English version by Susana Urra.

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