May 17, 2014, 2:50 p.m.

Why doesn't the Mosque of Córdoba belong to everyone?

or How to jeopardize over 1000 years of intercultural dialogue


From Campillos we travelled on towards our next stopover: Córdoba! On our way to our first meeting we stumbled across yet another community project: An old, vacant school building had been transformed by the citizens into the Social Centre Rey Heredia de Córdoba (named after the school), a communal kitchen included. The government has tried in various ways to shut down this oasis of community spirit, for example through cutting their water supply, but every time the resistance of the citizens of Córdoba has been too overwhelming to take any further steps. The social centre is financed exclusively by the citizens themselves: people bring food, books, and other items. Miguel later told us that the 15M movement is somehow related to this centre and that the movement has left the people with a new kind of awareness about the importance of the fight for social justice. How beautiful.


Miguel, member of the Platform ‘in Defence of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba’ guided us to this monument of UNESCO world heritage status. The platform was formed in response to claims by the Cathedral  over property ownership. This is a critical move by the Catholic Church given the history of the medieval Mosque-Cathedral, which was built between 784 and 987 as a mosque (and officially is still called the Mosque of Córdoba) and subsequently in 1236 a catholic church was built in its centre. In the Islamic beginnings of the church, the attitude towards the residential Christians is reported to have been kind, however nowadays Moslems are not allowed to pray in the Mosque-Cathedral.


The privatisation of this historic monument has to be seen in context with the land registration reform enacted after the inauguration of the Spanish democracy in 1998. About 400 buildings without ownership, such as churches and surrounding buildings, were bought up – without notification. In Navarro, more than 4000 buildings were sold to private bidders. In response the Platform ‘in Defence of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba’ was established, to fight for their cultural heritage and make it public property for the use of all (see their online petition on


It is still a young struggle, just about 3 months have passed, but it got lots of attention already (the Transeuropa caravans included :)), including in the foreign press. This is no surprise given the historic importance of the Mosque-Cathedral. There have been intense public debates and in Córdoba the majority want the Cathedral to be public, no matter what faith they belong to.


Responses of the politicians are mixed: Both the Izquierda Unida and PSOE are supportive of the platform, whilst the ruling PP is against public patrimony. Thus Córdoba’s own government as well as the national government and ministry of justice are against the platform's objective. In this context Miguel feels perplex about the attitude of the government:


“What kind of people are governing us, against the will of their own people?”


Miguel believes that the fact that the national government does not want the Mezquita-Cathedral to be in public hands is a sign of how close it still is to the catholic church. The platform also has fierce opposition in form of the ultra catholic group called “Haz te oir”, who accuse the platform of stealing property. The most extraordinary and curious criticism, however, has come from the national newspaper “ABC”, who compared the platform to Al-Qaeda. This is so ridiculous it's almost funny.


The church presents itself as the user of the building and hence its owner. It is difficult to comprehend the basis of the churches argument of usage and ownership given the Islamic origin of the Mosque-Cathedral. Moreover, the usage of the church is mainly touristic: the Mezquita-Catedral is the third most visited monument in Spain. Tourists are interested in the history and architecture of the impressive Mezquita-Catedral, rather than attending the religious services of the church. Still, the charges of €8 entrance fee go into the pocket of the Catholic Church. The Church has also made a bold statement by changing the official name of the Mosque-Cathedral, which actually is “Mosque of Córdoba”, to “Cathedral of Córdoba”.


The church does not declare income, it does not pay taxes and there is no transparency with regards to the actual amount they collect in entrance fees. Meanwhile, it was the public that invested in the Mosque-Cathedral. In times of economic hardship, it seems particularly extraordinary that the revenues from its own historic building should not go to the people of Córdoba, but to the private church association.


“33 per cent of the people in Córdoba cannot pay for their life and the church makes itself owner of the most important building - it is an insult.”


The platform demands that the administration of the church, as well as the entrance fees, are governed publicly. If the national constitutional court is not able to help them, the next step will be the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.


“If need be we go to Rome and speak to Francisco!”


The Mosque-Cathedral was made UNESCO world heritage in 1984 for its unique architecture, its beauty and for human rights reasons, reflecting its historical representation of inclusive, inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue. It was the first building in Spain to receive this title. And it is true:


“Why can this not be an example of peace between the Islamic and Catholic religion?”


See the video of day 6 on Córdoba.


Dec. 20, 2014, 10:06 p.m.

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