The Mesquite

Murat Nemet-Nejat responding to Samuel Vriezen's post In Spain


I agree with you completely. When I am in Spain -and also in Florence for that matter- I am struck by the power and influence of the Islamic culture in these places. For instance, the attention the Spaniards pay to their house and other building doors -the wonderful decorations of some of them- comes from the Islam, the incredible design of gates in the Selchuki art in Anatolia, the 12th and 13th centuries, time of Mevlana Jalalladin Rumi and Yunus Emre.

I know exactly the "brutal architectural adjustment" inside The Mesquite in Cordoba you are talking about. For years I have thought of writing a poem about that experience -and once I started it- which reminded me of a science fiction movies where the alien creature enters body of person and emerges out of the stomach as a griffin or lizard-like creature, a triffoid or body snatchers.

The Mesquite, to me, maybe is the most beautiful building ever built. Obviously, in the original design, the columns inside the mosque are arranged in such a way that the light emanating through the columns fall exactly on the orange trees in the courtyard, creating a sublime fusion of the inside with the outside, through light, the sublime symbol of God. Obviously, when the Christians took the mosque, they sealed all the openings to the outside with brick walls, which is the way it is now. How the Catholics must have hated this free movement of light, the joyful vision of unity it implied.

I think the Western art completely adapted the peculiar pattern of the narrow arched columns in The Mesquite, with its geometric, fan-like terra cotta stripes, since many Renaissance buildings also uses them.

Then you have the dream like loveliness of the mihrab inside, facing Mecca. Next to it you have the brutal adjustment you are talking about, the altar, if I remember correctly surrounded by tall brass bars, reoriented, facing Jerusalem.

No two altars, next to each other, aslant from each other facing two different ideologies, not talking to each other, could have more different architectural styles. The altar is totally covered with paintings, of all sorts of saints, an overwhelming amount of gold surrounding them acting almost as an alchemical agent of piety. The mihrab has no paintings. What one has a subtle, ethereal movement of colors.

It is a miracle, a salute to human spirit and the grace of the Spanish king that the Mihrab was not destroyed. There must have been great political pressure to do so at the time, considering all the animus and gloating of conquest. The beaty and sacred integrity of the mihrab must have been obvious. As a result, in that strange and terrifying place inside The Mesquite one has a snapshot (basically a photograph, of a moment in history, of power, domination and something which escapes from it.

Something similar in reverse occurred in Constantinople when the Ottomans conquered the city. The Hagia Sophia was spared, well more or less. The Byzantine mosaics were painted over with Islamic writing. But the building does not disappear. The great Ottoman architect Sinan writes that when he was building the Sultan Ahmet Mosque right next to Hagia Sophia, he was trying to emulate and outdo the latter's majestic dome.

Though the Jews were kicked out and the Moors became second class citizens, I think the Moorish culture haunts Spain. Its signs are everywhere, and that is what I think makes Spain unique in Europe, giving it a lot of its beauty. I wonder if the Art Nouveau and Modernismo apartment and other buildings in Barcelona, their ecstatic, delicate sense of decoration, would have existed without the Moors.

The way you describe it, I think Fernando Renjifo's Hélice does have Islamic traces. The fusion of mathematics both with mysticism and reason is a synthesis the Islam created out of Classical Greek thought, a direction the Scientific Western thought left behind. Helicé seems to have traces of this fusion, along with the concept of light as spiritual motion (transparent pages), present both in The Mesquite and the idea of a mirror.

Let me give another example. The Western readers of my Turkish anthology have quite often associated Eda with Lorca's duende. In terms of direct influence, no connection exists whatsoever. But it is also true that duende seems to be about a Moorish element in the Andalousian music. Here again we are seeing the re-emergence of the Islam as a vital, productive force within the Western consciousness,in the very nexus where the West is confronting the rest of the world. Given the historical transformations of our time, is this emergence any wonder?




Anonymous said...

This is really beautiful.

One imagines a novella-length collection of such "architectural mediatations"...

A nice follow-up, perhaps, to the photography book.

Just an idea.


Linh Dinh said...

Hi Murat,

I second Kent's opinion. Your writing is gorgeous and exhilarating, the best sort of "travel" literature.

Murat Nemet-Nejat said...

Kent, Linh,

Thank you guys. This is one of the benefits of suffering from chronic insomnia, I suppose. Maybe I will call them Midnight Meditations, if not Witching Hour Hallucinations or even better, The Travelogues of a Somnambulist: Meditations On a Roof.

The day before, the whole day I was feeling guilty and angry at myself for avoiding working on a book of poems and a new book of translations I am trying to finish, kicking myself for pissing away all my time surfing on the computer.



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