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Excursion from Cordoba to Medina Azahara
(Medinat al-Zahra)


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Opening Times: Cordoba Information

Photos of new Medina Azahara Museum and Interpretive Center

·Explore ancient ruins ·Visit the Sierra Morena ·Enjoy the views

Admission FREE for EU Citizens · Buses twice daily from Cordoba

Medina Azahara is the only truly Andalusi city--the perfectly ordered jewel of the Umayyad Caliphate. Wander among the ruins of the palaces built by Abd al-Rahman III, the most powerful of the rulers of Moorish Spain, and buried forgotten at the base of the Sierra Morena for 900 years. While you're at it, enjoy the Spanish countryside just a few miles from Cordoba .

Medina Azahara: the forgotten Versailles

After Abd al-Rahman III proclaimed himself Caliph in 929, establishing the independent Umayyad Caliphate in the west, he decided to show his subjects and the world his power by building a palace-city 5 miles from Cordoba . The largest known city built from scratch in Western Europe , Medina Azahara was the forgotten Versailles of the middle ages. It would be described by travelers from northern Europe and from the East as a dazzling series of palaces full of treasures never seen before.

A concubine's whim or imperial ambitions?


Popular legend holds that the Caliph named al-Zahra, or Azahara, after his favorite concubine, and that a statue of a woman stood over the entrance. Others, imagining his demanding lover, say that he built this new city just to please her. The truth, however, has more to do with politics than love. Abd al-Rahman III ordered the construction of this city at a time when he had just finished consolidating his political power in the Iberian Peninsula and was entering into conflict with the Fatimi dynasty for the control of North Africa.

It was this moment when he declared himself utterly independent, the true Caliph (Prince of Believers) and descendant of the Umayyad dynasty, which had nearly been completely exterminated by the Abassids in the 9 th century. He brought about a series of political, economic and ideological measures to impress upon the world his legitimacy. A new capital city, fitting of his status, was one of those measures.

What is visible of the ruins of Medina Azahara today is only 10% of its extension, forgotten for 900 years. The 112 hectare-urb was no mere pleasure palace for weekend excursions, but the effective capital of al-Andalus , the territory controlled by the Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula . The magnificent white city, built in steppes into the hillside at the base of the Sierra Morena with the Caliph's palace at the highest point, was designed to be seen by his subjects and foreign ambassadors for miles.

Abd al-Rahman III moved his entire court to Medina Azahara in 947-48. We may imagine that his beloved al-Zahra was already comfortably installed in the new Medinat.

More on Medina Azahara and its short-lived existence in coming weeks.

23 Nov 2005



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