Medina Azahara on the UNESCO World Heritage list
Medina Azahara in Cordoba was once an emblematic Arab Muslim medieval town. The city consisted of government and religious buildings, gardens, workshops, houses and of course the caliph’s residence. It was built between 936 and 940 by caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III of Cordoba.
Nowadays it has a proud listing on the UNESCO world heritage list.
Medina Azahara in Cordoba, Spain
Medina Azahara, the shining city, was constructed on three terraces, surrounded by a city wall, with the royal palace situated at the highest level. The second level was for government buildings and the lower part was reserved for living quarters and the mosque.
The main gates, for visiting ambassadors and other dignitaries, consisted of fifteen arches, with a horseshoe-shaped central arch. The city had baths and toilets with running water, supplied via aqueducts coming from the Sierra Morena.
This was a city built to impress and bedazzle the visitor.
The Medina in Cordoba
The walled 112 hectares make Medina Azahara one of the most important archaeological sites in Spain. Nowadays the visitor can only see ten per cent of the ruins, the rest remains underground waiting for funds and resources to continue the excavation. Even though the main site is hidden in plain sight, there is plenty to see.
Wandering through the streets of the inner city I realise not that much has changed over the last thousand years. Narrow winding streets hint at the Moroccan Medinas, like the old towns of Fez and Marrakech. The buildings, once whitewashed, had patios and fountains, much like many traditional houses in Cordoba today.
And yes, people still build to impress.
The Caliphate of Cordoba
The nearby city of Cordoba at the time of the Caliphate had a population of around half a million people. It was the largest and most prosperous city in Europe around the first millennium. The fertile Cordobese plains produced crops using irrigation making it possible to provide the city with enough food to sustain such a large population. In comparison, London, another important European city at the time, had fifteen thousand inhabitants (just saying).
The Caliphate of Cordoba was a Muslim state called al-Andalus, occupying at its peak most of what is today Spain, Portugal and part of North Africa. The caliphate existed from 929 to 1031 and was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty. The period of the Caliphate is seen as the golden age of al-Andalus. Under the caliphs, Cordoba fostered a vibrant intellectual and cultural life. And the shining city, Medina Azahara, was the embodiment of its power.
The Visitor centre has an exhibition area with several of the artefacts found on the site. In the cinema, an interesting animated video shows how the city must have looked in its full glory.
EU citizens don’t pay an entrance fee to the main site, nor to the museum.
Guided tour Medina Azahara
A guided tour makes all the difference. The place comes to life when a knowledgeable guide explains what once was. Maria can do tours in English, French and Spanish.
Medina Azahara location
Is located 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Cordoba in the foothills of the Sierra Morena.
Carretera de Palma del Río, km. 5,5
Getting there by Car
The parking is two kilometres away from the main site at the visitor centre. You have to take the shuttle bus, which departs every 20 minutes. It is the only authorized transportation; the alternative is to walk uphill. The shuttle service price is 2,10 Euros.
Getting to Medina Azahara by bus from Cordoba
From Cordoba, there is a regular bus service, which includes the price of the shuttle. This service must be reserved in advance.
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