Buried for almost a millennium, the ancient palatial city of Madīnat az-Zahrā, probably the most stunning mediaeval Islamic city outside of the Arab world is only now beginning to reveal its secrets. Today I had a most extraordinary day – exploring Medina Azahara, near Cordoba.
The Islamic empire of Al-Andalus covered most of the Iberian Peninsula for some 700 hundred years, up until the end of the 15th century.
Granada’s Alhambra is the well known the ‘poster boy’ of this fascinating period in Spain’s history, yet sleepy Córdoba probably has the greatest Islamic architectural heritage. If you are fascinated, like me, by the hispanic-muslim legacy of Al-Andalus, then Cordoba is an essential part of any visit to Andalucia.
Built on three huge terraces, following the topology of the hillside site, the ‘shining city’ of Madinat Al-zahra, known in Spanish as Medina
Azahara covers 112 hecatares, and has only recently been excavated.
It was built around 936, for Abd-al Rahman III. it was for a short time, the hub of the Al-Andalus Empire, a seat of power; a place of beauty and refined aesthetics. Yet ultimately a place of conflict, destroyed just decades after its creation in rioting during an imperial civil war during 1010 and 1013.
An impressive museum has been discreetly constructed near the site, offering visitors a compelling insight into life in the city. Despite centuries of looting that continued until relatively recently, there is still much to see both within the museum and at the city site. One of the exhibits shows just how much of the ornate detailing was looted in modern times and incorporated into public buildings across Spain!
Amazingly it’s said only 11 percent of the city is so far excavated, so there are still many secrets to unearth. One of the most recent to be discovered was the city’s mosque, said to be modelled on Great Mosque of Damascus and remains to be one of the oldest still existing in
It’s no secret that I am fascinated by this period of Spain’s history and it was a genuine pleasure to explore the site.
Most visitors make it to Córdoba’s awesomely impressively city centre Cathedral – Mosque, but heading a few kilometres out of town to Medina Azahara is well worth it.
Open Tuesdays to Sunday including holidays (until 17.00 on Tue-Sat, and until 15.00 on Sun)
Check website for latest details
Entrance is free to EU citizens and 1.50
for international guests
One must take a bus from the museum to the
site as parking nearby is not permitted.
Shuttle Bus is 2.50 euro return, running every
Arrive by high speed AVE to Córdoba and take
Or exit at 405 off the A4 motorway and