Postcard from Cordoba, Spain: Mezquita Catedral

The Cathedral of Cordoba is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, yet even the city’s Catholics tend to refer to it simply as La Mezquita, the Mosque.

A Roman temple once stood on this site, but it was torn down with its building materials recycled for construction of a Visigoth church. The Moorish conquest in the 8th century resulted in another teardown and recycling of materials, particularly columns.

Cordoba became the headquarters of the independent Caliphate in Spain, and a golden age of construction burst forth to create a capital to rival the splendor of Damascus and Constantinople. This meant the mosque must be enormous.

The interior boasts approximately 850 granite jasper and marble columns. As the handsome columns were too short to attain the desired height, the arches they supported were topped with a second tier of arches, all in a striking pattern alternating red brick and white stone. A shell-shaped ceiling carved from one block of marble crowns the gilded Mihrab, the original center for prayer, at the heart of the Mezquita.

King Ferdinand III (1199-1252) reclaimed Cordoba from the Moorish rulers in 1236, and the mosque immediately was consecrated as a Christian place of worship. The original Gothic altar inserted in the middle of the former mosque was expanded and modified to reflect later and Renaissance and Baroque styles. The architectural encasement of the original minaret masks its origins. A full Renaissance nave popped up above the existing roofline during the reign of King Charles V (1500-1558). Some say the king was displeased with the resulting intrusive architectural assault upon the stunning structure.

Lawrence Boheme offers a tale involving a 1,000-mile round trip for the bells of Santiago de Compostela to symbolize the historical rivalry between the Spain’s Christians and Muslims at this site:

At the height of Muslim power, during the Omega Caliphate at the end of the 10th century, the fearsome warlord Al-Mansur led a bloody raid through northern Spain, going as far into Christian territory as Santiago de Compostela. On the loose in the great pilgrims’ city, the Moor had the audacity of riding his horse into the cathedral and letting it drink from the font of holy water, outraging the Christian townsfolk; then, even more insultingly, he had the church’s bells carried 500 miles south to Cordoba, where they were melted down to make lamps to illuminate the Great Mosque.

When, two and a half centuries later, in 1236, the Castillian King Ferdinand the Third (“The Saint”) reconquered Cordoba, his first action, to avenge the humiliation caused by Al-Mansur, was to have the lamps carried back to the shrine of Saint James, where they were melted down to make a new set of bells.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Size foremost in the minds of Cathedral founders

In the year 1482, Pierre Dancart began carving the High Altar for the Cathedral of Seville, el Catedral de Santa María de la Sede. The enormous project probably consumed most of his life, as he did not finish until 44 years later. The sheer size of the altar overwhelms the vignettes from the Bible and lives of saints contained within it, such as the rather gory spearing of children above.

But size was what mattered most to those who determined to build the grand Cathedral in 1401.

Prior to that time, the site was occupied by a major mosque with a minaret designed by architect Ahamed ben Basso for Almodhad Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf (1135-1185). When King Ferdinand III of Castile (1199-1252) conquered Sevilla in 1248, both the city and the mosque were Christianized. Chapels were inserted to convert the interior into a more Catholic appearing space.

Seville became a center of wealth, and the initial redo of the mosque was not as grandiose as the city’s leaders vision for the city. They wanted an awe-inspiring Cathedral, so work commenced.

The resulting Cathedral was built astride the mosque and inside some of the walls of its compound. The imposing edifice covers close to six acres, with the center transept soaring to a height equal to a 12-story building – by most measurements, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. The minaret was converted into a bell tower, the Giralda, and rises more than 30 stories in height.

Perhaps some of the plans were more grandiose than practical. The center dome collapsed in 1511, only five years after its completion. Its replacement, however, lasted until an earthquake in 1888. The newest one was completed in 1903.

The Cathedral contains the tombs of several kings as well as that of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). The riches within are suitably impressive, and art includes works by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) and Francisco de Goya (1746-1828).

One can be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Cathedral, or zoom in on the details, such as tiny shards of saints held in reliquaries or predatory, the Moorish lock on a door or wolves topping pilasters at one of the entrances.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: The church of the Raven King of Hungary stands as stunning landmark

In 1458, a raven flew from Transylvania to Prague bearing a ring sent by the mother of Matthias to let him know to return home. Or so some claim. The raven and the ring symbol can be seen throughout Budapest, and Matthias became known as Matthias Corvinus, corvinus meaning raven in Latin.

The Diet elected the 15-year-old king, even though he had no direct dynastic claim to the throne. He would rule until his death, somewhat suspicious in cause, in 1490. His reign was noted for increased military power, the rise of power of lower nobility at the expense of the upper crust and an artistic Renaissance.

Perched atop a hilltop on the Buda side of the river, the church known as Matthias Church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The earliest portions of it were built in the 13th century. Styles range from a medieval relief depicting Mary’s death dates from 1370 to major Gothic details added to the outside and murals inside added at the close of the 19th century. The tallest tower was added by King Matthias, whose royal wedding was held in the church.

Conquering Turks in the mid-1500s white-washed the walls and covered them with carpets to transform the church into a serviceable mosque. Before the Ottoman invasion, some of the faithful walled up the Loreto Chapel containing a statue of the Black Madonna dating from 1515. An explosion in 1686 at the castle nearby sent that wall crumbling, and the statue reappeared for the faithful prior to the end of Ottoman control in 1699.

The church then was remodeled in the Baroque style. Among the kings whose coronations have been held there is Emperor Franz Josef in 1867.

The extensive changes characterizing the appearance of the church today were undertaken in 1895, including the installation of the gleaming, colorful Zsolnay ceramic roof tiles. Despite the intermingling of so many conflicting styles through the centuries, Matthias Church stands as a stunning landmark above the Danube.