Sunday, February 8, 2009

Medina Azahara

After over four months in Córdoba, we decided it was time to visit the Medina Azahara. This is probably the last of the “big” tourist sites in Córdoba, but we just hadn´t gotten around to it. We found ourselves without other plans today (unusual in itself!), so we paid 6.50€ each to board the tourist bus and head over. You can see pictures at:

The Medina, more properly called the Madinat al-Zahra, was built beginning in A.D. 940, while Spain was still very Muslim. It was begun by the caliph Abd Al-rahman III as a demonstration of the unification of al-Andalus under his rule (let´s face it…an ego trip on a grand scale). He used it as his administrative center, effectively the capital of Moorish Spain for a time. The Medina´s heyday was short; the caliph´s successors moved the government seat to Madinat al-Zahira (yes, I know the name looks very similar, but look carefully at the letters), to the east of Córdoba. After that, the Medina fell rapidly into decline. It was partially destroyed when the caliphate broke up around A.D. 1010, and systematically dismantled for building materials over the succeeding centuries. It was never really lost, but it wasn´t excavated as an archaeological site until the early 1900´s.

It´s quite enjoyable to see ruins that have not been completely restored. At the Medina, parts of the castle and court have been restored, but other parts have been left in ruins. The areas that have been restored give you a feel for what the scholars think the original structure must have looked like. But when areas are left in their ruined state, you get a very different feel for the structure, and how people lived. In many ways the ruins, with bracken and weeds pushing their way through the cracks, seem more real even without complete roofs or floors. The Moorish architecture is really quite amazing. Tonya is falling in love with the Moorish art and scroll work that decorates the walls and doorways. It must have been inspiring to live in places adorned in such a manner.

These sites which haven´t been maintained and restored just feel much older. To really see an ancient building as it was, you´d have to be able to go back in time. Restored, or in ruins; that´s the choice. Buildings like Córdoba´s Mezquita, which have been in continuous use for a thousand years, are a mixture of ancient and non-so-ancient and near-modern and modern. The ruins of the Medina show what it was like around A.D. 1000, though it takes some imagination to visualize it.

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