Ahmed Seif EL-Din
The Catholic Church has come under fire for its plan to build a visitor centre at the Great Mosque of Cordoba, which critics say downplays the monument’s Muslim identity. The mosque, one of the most celebrated Islamic sites in the world, was founded by the Umayyad dynasty and built over a period of two centuries. It has been a cathedral since the Christian reconquest of Cordoba in 1236.
According to a report by Demetrio Fernandez, the Bishop of Cordoba, the Church’s planned centre aims to “correct” what it sees as an excessively Islamic vision of the city’s past. The report argues that Cordoba is seen as a Muslim city, and that this cultural reductionism has obscured the city’s rich Christian and Roman heritage.
However, critics have accused the Church of “diluting” the importance of the mosque in favour of emphasising the Christian presence in Cordoba. José Miguel Puerta, a professor of art history at the University of Granada, said that while it was important to highlight the Christian and Jewish past of the city and the mosque, it should not be done at the expense of the Islamic side.
The controversy over the mosque’s identity is not new. In 2017, Bishop Fernandez caused outrage when he claimed that the mosque was Christian art and that the Moors had only put in the money. Historians disagree over whether the mosque was built on the site of a church. In December, the Spanish government officially acknowledged the building’s ownership by the Catholic Church, ending a long-running dispute with activists and historians who argued that it belonged to the Crown of Castile and then the Spanish state.
The dispute over the Great Mosque of Cordoba highlights the complex and contested history of Spain, which has been shaped by successive waves of invasion, occupation, and cultural exchange. The mosque, with its fusion of Islamic and Christian architectural styles, is a potent symbol of this history. The controversy over its identity reflects the ongoing debate over Spain’s cultural and religious heritage, and the role of the Catholic Church in defining that heritage.
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