Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Celebration of civilisations

Our New Year visitors were Charles, Helen's brother, and his wife Julia. As well as showing them around the usual sites of Budapest we decided to pay a trip one day to the city of Pécs, right down in the south of Hungary. The guidebooks say that it is the next most beautiful city in the country, after Budapest, and indeed was a European City of Culture in 2010. True to form, we manage to visit it in the first few days of 2011.

The cultural excitement may have faded but the beauty had not, helped by a beautiful crystal-clear blue winter's sky, something we had not seen in Budapest for some weeks.

Pécs has many interesting places, but the one that caught my attention was the Catholic church in the main square that goes under the name of the Gazi Kasim Pasha mosque. Interesting.

The area now occupied by Hungary was actually part of the Ottoman Empire between about 1520 and 1680. Not much evidence of the Islamic period remains, the Austrian 'liberation' having destroyed almost everything of interest. However, the mosque in Pécs remains, albeit now a Catholic church.

Mihrab and cross
But what is interesting is the way in which it celebrates its dual heritage. From the outside it looks very much like a mosque and inside still retains many Islamic features, such as the mihrab and a marble tablet bearing some words from the Koran.

Even the cross on the top sits inside an Islamic crescent

In these days where Christians and Muslims can regard each other with suspicion or hostility it felt comforting to be in a place that celebrated their similarities and connections. Would that we could see this everywhere...

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