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Madina al-Zahra


                                                                                                                             troops and all the support staff required by a large working
                                                                                                                             population, secretaries, cooks and servants. For relaxation,
                                                                                                                             there were bathhouses and at least three extensive gardens.
                                                                                                                             The whole was surrounded by a fortified wall. Some of the
      This is the story of a city, a story that could have been   It was time to make a statement to impress his             features of the city, such as the arranging of suites around a
      written for ‘The Arabian Nights’, a city that was built in   legitimacy on the world, and he did so by making a        central courtyard or garden and the basilically roofed halls (as
      40 years, flourished for 40 years and then perished in   series of political, economic and ideological measures        opposed to domes) were conceived for the first time and
      flames and was forgotten for one thousand years. It was   and building a city.                                         subsequently became established features of western Islamic
      a city; legend has it, built for a woman – Azahara, the   Building started between 936 and 940 on a 115-hectare        architecture.
      favourite concubine of the Caliph. It was a city built from   site in the foothills of the Sierra Morena overlooking the   Abd ar-Rahman III died in 961 and was succeeded by his son
      the foundations up, the largest in Western Europe and   Guadalquivir river just downstream of the city of              Al-Hakam II who reigned until 976. During this period the palace
      was described by travellers from all over the known   Córdoba, then the centre of government. The mosque,              complex was extended, but soon after his death, the city was
      world as ‘a dazzling series of palaces full of treasures   which bore a close resemblance to the Great Mosque          inexplicably abandoned. In 1010, following a civil revolt, the
      never seen before’.                                  of Córdoba was consecrated in 941, and in 947 the                 citizens of Córdoba looted the abandoned city of all its
      The city is Madina al-Zahra and it is situated just 8   government was transferred from Córdoba.                       treasures and burnt it to the ground. Much of the beautiful
      kilometres from another shining example of Arabic    The Palace area was completed by 945, in which year               stonework was removed over the succeeding centuries and
      splendour, Córdoba.                                  the Caliph took up residence and is on the highest level          re-used locally in farm buildings and walls. Nature took over and
      In 929 AD Abd ar-Rahman III declared himself ‘utterly   of the city, overlooking the gardens. It must have been a      the city was buried until its re-discovery in 1910.
      independent’, the true Caliph (Prince of Believers –   magnificent sight, finished with the finest materials and       Today only about 10% of the city has been excavated and is
      effectively ruler of the Islamic world) and a direct   rich in carvings and shining white under the Al Andalus         open to the public. There is a very good museum in the valley
      descendant of the Umayyad dynasty. The Umayyad       sun. The remaining part of the city was built and rebuilt         below the site adjacent to the large car park from where you
      dynasty had almost disappeared the previous century   several times and finished about 980.                            take a bus to the site itself.
      due to the predations of a rival dynasty, the Abbasids.   The Shining City was designed to function as the             As if one ‘lost city’ were not enough there is a rumour, and there
      Abd ar-Rahman’s declaration finally consolidated his   administrative centre of a country; think of the Houses         are veiled references to a second, as yet, undiscovered city,
      power in the Iberian Peninsula after seventeen years of   of Parliament in the UK and the buildings associated         possibly in the vicinity of Madina al-Zahra.
      conflict with rebels within the Moorish held lands and   and close to it, the Foreign Office, Treasury, Ministry of
      he thereafter turned his attention to wresting control of   Defence and residences for the leaders in Downing          When Al-Hakam II died in 976 an Arab of noble birth, Al-Mansur
      North Africa from the Fatimid dynasty.               Street. The city also housed a considerable number of             Ibn Abi Aamir, was instrumental in making sure the twelve-year-
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