Medina Azahara, UNESCO World Heritage

Medina Azahara in Córdoba was once an emblematic Arab Muslim medieval town. The city consisted of government and religious buildings, gardens, workshops, houses and of course, the caliph’s residence. It was built between 936 and 940 by caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III of Córdoba.

Nowadays, it has a proud listing on the UNESCO world heritage list.

Medina Azahara in Córdoba, Spain

Medina Azahara, the shining city, was constructed on three terraces, surrounded by a city wall. The royal palace was situated at the highest level. The second level was for government buildings. The lowest part was the domain of the inhabitants and the mosque.  The shining city, Medina Azahara, was the embodiment of its power.

Cordoba Medina Azahara

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The main gates consisted of fifteen arches with a horseshoe-shaped central arch for visiting ambassadors and other dignitaries. The city had baths and toilets with running water. This was supplied via aqueducts coming from the Sierra Morena.

This was a city built to impress and bedazzle the visitor.

The Medina in Cordoba

The walled 112 hectares make Medina Azahara one of the most important archaeological sites in Spain. Nowadays, the visitor can only see ten per cent of the ruins.

The rest remains underground, waiting for funds and resources to continue the excavation. Even though the most important bits are hidden in plain sight, there is plenty to see.

Wandering through the streets of the inner city, I realise not that much has changed over the last thousand years. Narrow, winding streets hint at the Moroccan Medinas, like the old towns of Fez and Marrakech.

The buildings, once whitewashed, had patios and fountains, much like many traditional houses in Córdoba today.

And yes, people still build to impress.

The Caliphate of Córdoba

The nearby city of Córdoba at the time of the Caliphate had a population of around half a million people. It was the largest and most prosperous city in Europe around the first millennium.

The fertile Cordobese plains produced crops. Irrigation made it possible to provide the city with enough food to sustain such a large population. In comparison, London, another important European city at the time, had fifteen thousand inhabitants (just saying).

The Caliphate of Córdoba was a Muslim state called al-Andalus. The state occupied at its peak most of what is today Spain, Portugal and part of North Africa. The Caliphate existed from 929 to 1031 and was ruled by the Umayyad dynasty. The period of the Caliphate is seen as the golden age of al-Andalus. Under the caliphs, Córdoba fostered a vibrant intellectual and cultural life. And the shining city, Medina Azahara, was the embodiment of its power.

UNESCO world heritage site Medina Azahara

Practical information

The Visitor Centre has an exhibition area with several of the artefacts found on the site. In addition, an interesting animated video shows how the city must have looked in its full glory in the cinema.

EU citizens don’t pay an entrance fee to the main site nor to the museum.

Guided tour Medina Azahara

A guided tour makes all the difference. The place comes to life when a knowledgeable guide explains what once was. Maria can do tours in English, French and Spanish.

Check here for price and availability.

Medina Azahara location

It is located 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Córdoba in the foothills of the Sierra Morena. Carretera de Palma del Río, km. 5,5, 14071 Córdoba

Getting there by Car

The parking is two kilometres away from the main site at the visitor centre. Therefore, you have to take the shuttle bus, which departs every 20 minutes. It is the only authorised transportation; the alternative is to walk uphill. The shuttle service price is 2.10 Euros.

Getting to Medina Azahara by bus from Córdoba

From Córdoba, there is a regular bus service, which includes the price of the shuttle. This service must be reserved in advance.

Whilst in Cordoba go kayaking into the sunset.

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