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Notes on the Geography of Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara

The Medina Azahara--originally the Medina al-Zahra--was begun as the new capital of al-Andalous in 929, the year Abdel Rahman III declared himself caliph.  A rectangle measuring about 750 by 1,500 meters, it was ready for occupancy 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 Granada remains intact, thanks to protection by later kings.

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Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara picture 1

Residents were paid a bounty if they built a house in the new city, which grew quickly. Its name means City of the Flower but comes from a prized concubine of that name. That's Cordoba in the background.

Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara picture 2

An elaborate system of canals, aqueducts, and tunnels brought water about 10 miles to the site.

Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara picture 3

The vestibule to an audience chamber is the one building on the site that evokes the city as it was.

Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara picture 4

The ceiling is modern, though the original was of arbor vitae from North Africa, a very longlasting timber in this climate. Just not this longlived.

Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara picture 5

Two arcades divide the room into three sections.  The columns were presumably taken from Roman buildings.

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The columns support well-developed horseshoe arches and polychrome or ablaq voissoirs./P>

Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara picture 7

The arches rest on a distinctive capital.  The sculpted wall panels above are called atauriques .

Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara picture 8

An ataurique showing the tree of life.

Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara picture 9

The head of the hall echoes the mihrab of the mosque in Cordoba, right down to the framing alfiz.

Spain: Cordoba: Medina Azahara picture 10

The building at the left deviates from the rest of the city, which faced south.  That's because it was the mosque and faced southeast, toward Mecca.

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