Palm trees stretch in every direction in perfect rows to the horizon. The branches overhead create a shimmering hypnotic illusion.
They are not a mirage. But the orange and white colors introduce doubt.
The further you walk the stronger the illusion takes hold. It is impossible to see the entire field of columns and arches from any one point. The feeling of being in a hall of mirrors is powerful. Every tree is the same size, the curve of every branch equal. Almost immediately you become lost in the maze.
If you arrive early you can wander quietly under the grove of terracotta palms with few distractions. This is the Mezquita (Spanish for mosque) in Córdoba, Spain. The building also contains a cathedral.
The original Mezquita opened in 785 AD. It grew and evolved over several centuries. At its peak it contained 14, 400 square meters (~155,000 square feet). It recreates a feeling of the openness of desert expanses. The roof is supported by widely-spaced columns and arches. They simulate the appearance of date palms. At one time there were 1293 columns. Fewer than 900 remain.
It is difficult to photograph this expansiveness, even with a super wide angle lens (set to 19mm). The lighting is dim. I tried to use a monopod but a security person told me that was not allowed. I offered to put the rubber tip of the monopod on my shoe so it wouldn’t mar the ancient floor. But the rule was rigid. (The same thing happened in The Alhambra in Granada, Spain.) This photograph is only a small alcove within the Mezquita. If you turn to the right from this view the columns stretch away from you in every direction as far as you can see.
I spent two long mornings within the Mezquita. If you arrive at 8:30 am entrance is free and the crowds are small. After 10 am they charge an entrance fee and the tours begin. I photographed until there were too many people. Then I sat and watched and listened to the tours which were given in a variety of languages. This also gave me time to think about the things that may have happened during more than 12 centuries within this building. It is a place of spiritual contemplation and introspection.