Friday, November 16, 2007

Checking Out the Center-fold

The walled city of Toledo in the Castilla la Mancha region of Spain never once changed hands as the result of battle or war. Rather, control of the city was ceded through negotiations or peace accords, even during the city's re-conquisition in 1492. It is an amazing claim for any powerful city to make, let alone a city that was the shared home of Christians, Muslims and Jews during a period known as the "Convivencia," or coexistence, a period that lasted from 711 to 1492. Although each group lived separated from the others and the idea of intermarriage was unthinkable, the three religions afforded each other mutual respect and space in which to exercise their beliefs.

"The question though is not so much 'who is he.' That doesn't really matter. He is human, I am human. Why can't we just treat each other as humans?" -Marc Schutzbank.

In an age where religious radicalism gives rise to violence and mutual mistrust, the history of Toledo seems an impossible utopia. Have we become so blind to others' humanity that we insist that other people believe what we believe? That they adhere to the same creed we do?

European architecture is a constant reminder that co-existence is not just possible, but advisable, and even enriching.

In Naples the foundation of a Roman ampitheatre forms the basement of a row of apartment buildings.
In Rome, the Colosseum sits at the apex of three major roads, a magnificent reminder to the commuters roaring past of man's capabilities.

One of the two surviving synagogues in Toledo, the Sinagoga del Transito, was built by Muslim workers who decorated the ornate wooden ceiling with Arabic and Hebrew characters, their own contribution to a foreign devotion.

And although Ferdinand and Isabella attempted to eradicate mudejar decoration from El Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, the monastery they commissioned after their victory against Portugal, they didn't quite succeed, as the cloisters are rich with apex windows, carved with traditional designs.

I address world peace the way I tend address recycling: the result of a better world is something everyone can work towards, but also something I leave to the next guy, to governments, to grass roots organizations. The reality of peace may be a folly. But to integrate my own corner of the world is worth doing. No need to make grand gestures or bake every one of my neighbors a pie. To accept someone's belief structure and to question my own is a good start.

I'm trying to keep the Toledo Cathedral's security guard in mind: surrounded by mudejar carving in the most important of Catholic Spain's cathedrals, he sat reading an Ikea catalogue.

Muslim and Christian, traditional and modern. Co-existence has deep roots.

Let's make like the stones and groove.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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