Church in Spain accused of blotting out Islamic past of famed Cordoba mosque-cathedral

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A regional government in southern Spain has filed a complaint with Roman Catholic Church authorities over what it believes are church moves in recent years to blot out the Islamic past of Cordoba's ancient mosque-cathedral, one of the country's leading tourist attractions.

The Andalusia region's tourism department said Monday the practice by church authorities who own the complex of calling it simply "The Cordoba Cathedral" on its website and on pamphlets and tickets could hurt tourism and confuse the 1 million-plus tourists who annually visit the "mezquita" (mosque), as it is known popularly.

Tourism chief Rafael Rodriguez said one might think the church was looking to blot out the mezquita's Islamic past, which he described as representing a meeting of cultures and civilizations. The department has asked for a meeting with the church.

Cathedral officials deny the allegations and insist the monument's official title has been "The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Cordoba" since the 13th century — when the mosque built after the Moorish invasion of Spain in the 8th century was transformed into a cathedral after King Ferdinand III captured the city from the Moors.

The mosque itself had been built over a Christian Visigothic temple.

Cathedral spokesman Jose Juan Gimenez Gueto described the dispute as "an artificial controversy," pointing out that visitor numbers increase yearly. He said the church was proud of the monument's past and doesn't try to conceal it.

Cordoba is known as the City of Three Cultures because Muslims, Jews and Christians lived there in harmony during medieval times.

The monument, called the Mosque-Cathedral by Cordoba's town hall, still combines the exquisite red-and-white arches and gleaming marble columns of the original mosque with the richly ornate Renaissance and Baroque decorations of the cathedral. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.