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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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