Some of our guests that visit Córdoba to see the Mezquita wonder if there isn’t anything more to do in the lovely small city. Well there is: in the season there is of course the wonderful Fiesta de Patios de Cordoba and for the ones that cannot get enough of the unbelievable Moorish architecture – like me – there is also close to Cordoba the Medina Azahara.
Medina Azahara (in Arabic Madīnat az-Zahrā: literal meaning “the shining city”) are the ruins of a vast, fortified Arab Muslim medieval palace-city built by Abd-ar-Rahman III al-Nasir, (912–961) Caliph of Córdoba, and located on the western outskirts of Córdoba. It was an Arab Muslim medieval town and the de facto capital of al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain, as the heart of the administration and government was within its walls. Building started in 936 and was extended during the reign of Abd ar-Rahman III’s son Al-Hakam II (r. 961-976), but after his death soon ceased to be the main residence of the Caliphs.
Already in 1010 it was heavily damaged in a civil war and thereafter abandoned, with many building elements re-used elsewhere. Its ruins were excavated starting from the 1910s. Only about 10 percent of the 112 hectares have been excavated and restored, but this area includes the central area, with two caliphal residences, with associated bath complexes, two aristocratic residences and service quarters and the great garden spaces.
In 2005, it was described by the The New York Times as follows: To hear historians tell it, this buried city three miles west of Córdoba was the Versailles of the Middle Ages, a collection of estates and palaces teeming with treasures that dazzled the most jaded traveller or world-weary aristocrat. Pools of mercury could be shaken to spray beams of reflected sunlight across marble walls and ceilings of gold, according to contemporary records. Doors carved of ivory and ebony led to sprawling gardens full of exotic animals and sculptures made of amber and pearls.
Medina Azahara is located 8 km east of Córdoba at Sierra Morena Hills. To visit it, it is necessary to have a car: take the A-432 road from Córdoba that goes to Palma del Río. This road gets from Ronda de Poniente. About 4 kilometres to the right you will find the exit to Medina Azahara.