Travel to Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara
The Medina Azahara--originally the Medina al-Zahra--was begun in 929 as the new capital of al-Andalous. About 750 by 1,500 meters square, it was ready for occupance in 946 but did not become the capital until 981. A mere 25 years later, in 1004, a Berber revolt destroyed it so completely that until the 19th century the ruins remained a mystery. Archaeological work began in 1911, but the site is still 90% buried. Ironically, the much flimsier Alhambra at Cordoba remains intact, thanks to royal (Catholic) protection.
In the hills behind the site.
Here, on the plains outside Cordoba (seen in the distance) Abdel Rahman III began his capital in the same year that he assumed the title khalifa, caliph.The city lay within a rectangle of 750 by 1,500 meters; residents were paid a bounty if they built a house in the new city, which therefore grew quickly. "The City of Zahira" takes its name from a prized concubine, az-Zahara, "the flower."
Unless you have an archaeologist's eye, there's not a lot to see. In case you're wondering, an elaborate system of canals, aqueducts, and tunnels brought water about 10 miles to the site.
The building at the left deviates from the rest of the city, which faces south. That's because it was the mosque and faced southeast, toward Mecca.
The vestibule to an audience chamber that is the one building on the site that unquestionably evokes the city of Abdel Rahman III.
The view from within. The ceiling is modern, but the original ceiling was of arbor vitae from North Africa, a very long-lasting timber in this climate.
Inside, two arcades divide the room into three naves. Note the presumably recycled polychrome columns and the ablaq voissoirs.
A closeup of the well-developed horseshoe arches.
The arches rest on the distinctive caliphal capital. The sculpted wall panels of the arches themselves are called atauriques and once covered every otherwise plain surface.
Another ataurique, again a stone panel usually carved with a plant motif, here the tree of life.
The head of the hall echoes the mihrab of the mosque in Cordoba, right down to the framing alfiz.
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