It must say something about the architectural genius involved when an empty room without any furnishings, is still stunning.
And when we walked into the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca in Toledo that’s the first word that came to mind.
Built as a Jewish synagogue by Islamic builders around 1200, it’s concrete proof that the appreciation of beauty can transcend cultural and religious differences.
The building’s four rows of octagonal pillars supporting horseshoe arches, and its Artesanado ceiling make it a classic example of Mudéjar construction. And the contrast of the deep-red, azulejos floor tiles makes the room even more dramatic.
Arches resting on intricate capitals with finely carved, unpainted pinecones juxtapose two very different textures and colors, emphasizing the detail of the workmanship.
The synagogue is 800 years-old, and is one of the oldest standing Jewish synagogues in Europe. A lot can happen in eight centuries, and as you might expect, the building has survived many changes.
In 1492 it became a Catholic church when Ferdinand and Isabella’s religious zeal resulted in an edict that forced Toledo’s Jews to convert to Catholicism … or leave. Later, Napoleon’s troops inflicted the final indignity when they used the church as a horse barn.
This grand synagogue is unusual, but it’s not totally unique. Just 200 miles southwest of Toledo is another architectural gem that went through a transformation at the hands of two different religions. It’s the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, which started life as a classic Islamic mosque and was later converted to a Catholic cathedral.
Our blogging buddies Anita and Richard over at No Particular Place to Go were kind enough to provide these excellent photos of the cathedral.
And even though the Cordoba cathedral is much more colorful and the addition of Catholic elements were more “enthusiastic,” it demonstrates that Mudéjar architecture was an attractive style that appealed to church leaders. Richard and Anita’s post provides a thorough history of the Cordoba Cathedral, and it’s an informative summary of Spain at the time.
This was a time of radical transition in Spain, and animosities ran high. But these impressive architectural hybrids show a willingness for people with disparate beliefs to adapt ideas from the other side. And in generational wars the hope of peace is about small increments.
James & Terri