Madinat Al-Zahra: A Significant Early Islamic Archaeological Site in Spain (936-1010)
The Umayyads Dynasty in Spain (675-1031) reached the peak of its power at the time of the caliph Abd al-Rahman 111 (929-961), who decided to construct number of buildings and projects to express his power as well as the wealth of his dynasty such as Madinat Al-Zahra (936-1010). The caliph Abd al-Rahman 111 initiated the construction of the city in 936 and after his death in 961, his son, Al-Hakam 11 continued the work in the city as well as the completion of the great mosque of Cordoba. In 1010, Medinat Al-Zahra, which was once the symbol of the caliph’s power, and flourished for approximately 80 years was destroyed by rebellious Berber clans from North Africa. The city was buried for almost 900 years, and in the late 19th century, the city was rediscovered and excavations began in 1911.
Madinat Al-Zahra lies about 13 kilometers Nort-West of the city of Cordoba and its site featured a rectangular shape with about 1.52 kilometers length and 745 meters width. The city was intended to be a palace-city, which would house the caliph’s palace as well as the administrative and governmental buildings. Medinat al-Zahra was built on a terraced site below the Sierra Morena area. According to the archeological excavation, the city consisted of three terraces, each one of them was separated from the other by an arcaded wall, and the whole site was enclosed by fortified walls.
The palace of the caliph was situated on the top of the higher terrace to be isolated from the other buildings as well as to enjoy the maximum view of the surroundings. The ruins of the palace featured an imposing decorated and ornamented wall spaces and floors covered by mosaic-like tiles. The palace was also characterized by large halls with horseshoe-arches porticoes. On this high location, the palace was intended to be a symbol of the power of the caliph.
SalóN Rico, Madinat Al-Zahra
The middle terrace was also very important and came second to the caliph’s palace, where it included the government buildings, the caliph’s family members’ palaces, and the reception halls as well as accommodation for important individuals in the caliph’s court. The reception hall was characterized by a large pool, which was a common feature of the palaces of Granada. It was also positioned on the main axis of the city to emphasize its essential role as the main ceremonial hall. Middle terrace was separated from the upper one by a massive horseshow-arches arcade. The lower terrace occupied the market, number of simple dwellings, and the mosque of the city whose design is likely to be inspired by the Great Mosque of Cordoba.
Now, Madinat Al-Zahra is considered as one of the most significant early Islamic archaeological sites in the world. Excavations at the city’s site are still ongoing and a museum was built to be the place, where the archaeological findings can be preserved, as well as exhibited. However, about 10 percent of the fortified area of the city has been excavated. In 2010, the museum of Madinat Al-Zahra received the prestigious award of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
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