After passing the ticket desk, I came to an auditorium, which was showing a documentary, which recreates Medinatul Zahra and explains the most important features of the site. It was done with great details and the animated design was brilliant. At the end of the documentary, everyone clapped.
Then I went to the area where various object were on display. While I was there, two tourist groups came in, they were very loud and space became very tight. I moved on one side and waited for them to pass first. All of them were following their group leader like a flock of sheep would follow their shepherd. Most of the objects were inside the glass cases but some large ones were displayed openly. It ranged from small glasses, coins, plates, column bases, plates to large vases made of ceramics and carved windows of the steams baths.
Then, I came to the restoration and storage area. There were various objects on big stands which were either under repair or just brought there for the inspection. Then I went to the souvenir shop and bought few memorabilia and came out of the building.
Now, I wanted to take shuttle bus, which would bring me to the site of the Medinatul Zahra's ruins. I was waiting there for twenty minutes, I could see Cordoba city in the far distance and it was gleaming in strong Spanish sun. The shuttle bus arrived at 11:30am; I bought a return ticket from the driver which I think was around two or two Euros and thirty cents. The bus took only five minutes to reach the site, when I was entering the site; I was given a map of the area (ruins).
The Ruins of Medinatul Zahra
The ruins Of Medinatul Zahara lie 10 kilometres from Cordoba city, to the North-West, with Sierra Morena was on one side while River Guadalquivir's plains on the other. The wife of the Caliph Abd Al- Rehman III was from Granada and she had a great love for the mountains of Sierra Nevada. In order to please her, he started to build this city in 936. There could be another explanation to it, Abd al-Rehman III started to use the title of Caliph in 929 because the Ummayds were thrown out from Damascus by the Abbasids in 850 and Abd al -Rehman I managed to come to Al-Andalus and he established himself as an emir. So Abd ul-Rehman III thought in order to reflect his power and richness of the Caliphate he needed something splendour and majestic and Medinatul Zahra was an ideal project for him to pursue. Throughout The Europe, Cordoba city was known for its libraries and the educational institutions and it was often called “the light house of the Europe”.
Reason for location
Why Add ul-Rehman III chose this particular site, there were few reasons for that. There was a stone quarry, which was close to the Sierra Morena or Jabal Al-Arus (the Mountain of the Bride). There used to be an old Roma aqueduct in the area, in order to bring the fresh water from the mountains. It would be hard to believe that aqueduct was still operational but most likely the Muslim engineers rebuilt it or remodelled it.
This city was built by Abd al-Rehman III in 936. It took 10, 000 workers to build and 1500 mules and camels were used to transport the material to the site. It is believed that nearly one third of the income (annually) of Al-Andalus was used to build this city. This city was built on area of 112 hectors with the length of two kilometres and an estimated width of 900 meters, but only 15% of the original city has been excavated so far. After the death of Abd al-Rehman III, his son Hakim II kept residing there. Violent riots erupted in Cordoba in 1010 and the Berber tribe which was one of the main contributors to the troubles came to loot and plunder this magnificent city and thus this city was lost forever.
This city was built over three terraces.
As I entered the complex, I was standing on a high ground overlooking the first terrace of the city; this is where used to be the palace of the king. The palace was built at the very start of the city. This part of the Medinatul Zahara was in ruins and the access to the site was closed.
Then I started to walk on one side of the wall, which was on my right hand side, this wall brought me to the area of the northern door of the complex.
The Northern Gate
To the south of this door, there used to be a road, which would lead to the Cordoba city. This door was used by the army, traders and the public. The dignitaries would enter from a different gate, after the North gate, there was another gate which would was controlled by the guards. From this door, the guards were responsible to control the entry and exit to the city. There were few holes on the ground, which meant that gate used to be there. After the door was a gentle slope which was leading to a pathway and on my right hand side was a wall.
The Upper Residential Complex
That street led to the upper residential houses, the left side of the complex was open for the tourists. The high officers in the Caliph's court used to live there. In the middle of the houses was a courtyard and there was a sewerage system which would bring out all the waste from that part of the city. On the left hand side of the courtyard, there were no houses. It is said that during the reign of Al-Hakim II those houses were demolished to make way for a new street.
All the rooms were designed on the same style; it was hard to tell what used to keep inside those rooms. Part of the blames rests on the excavation methods which were applied during the early discovery and attentions wasn’t paid to the contents inside the rooms. Many were smashed into pieces. On the left side of the houses were toilet built for the households. It shows how developed and modern this city was in the tenth century. In front of the house was kitchen.
After passing this, the path led to the lower part of the city, there used to be guards here, who would control the Eastern side of the city and the Western side of the king's palace. There were few rooms and it is believed that they were used as the Royal Stables.
The House of the Jaffar
Jaffar was first vizier (Prime Minister) of Abd al-Rehman III. This house used to be very big, there were beautiful arches. This house used to have three parts, one for the vizier, second for the reception area and the last one was for the servants. The reception area was located on south side of the house.
Servant’s quarters were next to the corridor; this area was for the servants who used to work in the houses of the royal officials. There was also an oven (not the original one), which would serve the baking and cooking purposes for that area. After this were the House of the Pool and the House of the Pillars.
The Eastern side or the Public Sector
Next to it was the Eastern side which was used as a public sector to house Vizier house, the Great Portico and the Rich Hall.
Vizier House or Durl ul Vuzra
Inside the vizier house used to be a court house and the rooms next to it were used to house the documents. On the Eastern side was the Great Portico; the path here was turning and twisting, may be it was due to the security point of the area (in the past).
The Great Portico
Those were beautiful arches to impress the visitors and sometimes king would come there to inspect the army. The people who used to come to visit the king would walk through them. It used to have fifteen of them, fourteen were small one but the one in the middle was the largest. There used to be a small room on top of the middle arch. Sometimes king would come inside the room and inspect his armies which would be standing in rows holding their banners, on some occasions, the king would grant them permission and the farewell before they would go to a war.
This mosque was the largest in Medinatul Zahara. There used to be also smaller mosques in the city but this one was used for the regular prayers but the kings used to go to Cordoba for the Friday prayer. This mosque was designed on the Great Mosque of Cordoba but it was smaller in size and it was completed in 941. This mosque was to the East of the High Garden and Minar was on the north-eastern side.
The Rich Hall or Abd Al-Rehman III Hall
The entry to the hall was closed because it was under renovation. This hall was built between 953 -957 and it was the one of the most beautiful building in the whole complex in its glory days. The Caliph used to use this hall for the special occasions and celebrations.
The High Garden
This garden was a typical of an Islamic garden with lots of trees and plants and it was watered by the channels from the aqueduct. This garden was bigger than the one at the Royal palace.
It was getting very hot there; I decided to stay under a tree for a while. After resting for few minutes and restoring some energy, I walked back to the entrance, exit in my case of the complex. I took the shuttle bus, which arrived at 1:30pm and I was brought to the car park. I checked the thermometer in the car, it was showing 34 degrees.
I drove out of the car park and took small road which brought me to the A431 and then took left turn to go to the city. It was the same road which I had taken earlier. I came to one of the main road GPS informed me to turn right but right entry wasn’t allowed. I went straight, did a full turn on a roundabout which brought me back to the same roundabout, after coming on the road, I took one right before the second one. Then I took two left turn and that road brought me at the front of the hotel. I parked the car at the front and went inside to inquire about the car park. I was told that it was in the basement of the hotel and there was a charge to use it.
The Hesperia Hotel Cordoba
Then, I came to the car, which was at the front of the hotel. I was unable to drive out because there was a jeep parked in front of me with the back door opened. The driver was a girl, who was taking the boxes out from the jeep and putting them on the footpath. There was a car parked behind me so I couldn’t reverse. I had no choice but to wait for the girl to finish the unloading. She didn’t look at me and kept unloading. After finishing her task, she grabbed one of the boxes to leave. Then I beeped her to close the backdoor so I could drive out. She didn’t understand what I meant by beep. She came over to me and asked me something in Spanish. I pointed towards the opened back door of the jeep. She realised her silly mistake and she felt little embarrassed. After closing the door, she waved at me.
Then I took a left turn to turn into a smaller street after three more left turns, I was at the front of the underground car park. After parking the car I came to the reception area to check in. I asked the girl at the reception if it was possible to have the room at the front of the hotel, overlooking the city. I was told that I had to pay extra for a room with a better view. I agreed to pay the extra amount. After signing the registration card, I came to the room which was on the first floor. Because it was very close to the ground so it was noisy due to traffic on the road. Plus, I was unable to see anything because there were trees next to the Guadalquivir River. The furniture in the room looked very old and tired. So I decided not stay in that room. I went to the reception and informed the girl that I didn’t like the room and the view. So I wanted a standard non-smoking room with a king or queen size bed. I was given a key to a different room.
When I entered the room, there was a surprise for me. She had given me a smoking room. Myself being a non-smoker, I didn’t like the room. So I decided to go back to the reception again and told the girl about the smell of smoke in the room. She was adamant that it was a non-smoking room. I explained to her that I wasn’t in the hotel to drag me suitcase up and down all day. All I needed was a non-smoking room. She didn’t believe my words, so she sent one of the girl, who was standing next to her, to check the room. I was told to wait on a couch till they would hear from the manager. After few minutes, the girl spoke to someone on the radio and I was told to come over and she was going to move me to a non-smoking room.
Her explanation was that someone must have smoked cigarette in that room because our hotel was non-smoking. Then she gave me the new key card and explained that I should have mentioned at the time of the reservations that I needed a non-smoking room with a large bed. I took out the confirmation paper from my small bag and showed to her. She read the paper and turned at me, well, it was only a request we couldn’t guarantee the request. I told her that you had just mentioned that I would have requested in advance, you needed to get your act together and then walked towards the lift.
The room I was given, I had to go at the very end of the corridor, tuned right to another corridor and that room was at the end of it. When I tried to enter the room, my key card didn’t work. Now I was becoming angry, it was unacceptable for a four star hotel to have that kind of service. There was a house keeping girl passing by. I explained my problem to her. She called the front desk by using her radio to confirm my name and room number and then she allowed me to enter the room.
This room was better and well appointed. After a quick shower, I was ready to leave the hotel and explore the city. I just came out of the hotel and I was standing beside the river, I could see the Cordoba Mosque in the distance. It was my first encounter of that great monument; I stood there for few minutes. I felt like something had frozen my feet. Then, I walked to the bridge and passed the Calahorra Tower on my left hand side and I was at the one end of the Roman Bridge or the Arab Bridge.
The Roman Bridge
The bridge was full of the tourists. There was a guy on the bridge, who was playing violin. I must admit he wasn’t the best person to handle the instrument, never mind playing. Next to him was his old bicycle. He also had a speaker on the floor and the music was blaring out. Under the bridge, there was a truck which was being loaded by a digger with the stones and the gravel. In the middle of the bridge was a statue of St. Rafael. There were lots of melted candles on the floor and some of them were half used. The Statue of St. Rafael was built in 1651. The people of Cordoba would come there, after lighting the candles at the bottom of the statue, they would pray.
History of the bridge
This bridge was built by the Emperor Augustus in the first century. The Roman Bridge was made with the wood and it didn’t have the required strength to stay there for centuries. In 918, the Muslim builders built this bridge with the stone; they not only built it but also widened the bridge as well. Famous Arab Geographer Al-Idrissi wrote, “In the beauty and the strength of this bridge, there was no other”.
The current bridge a length of 250 meters and its width varied between 9.5 meters to 10.8 meters. It had sixteen pillars to support its weight.
This tower was located on the southern side of the city and it was next to the bridge. This tower was built by the Muslims in order to defend the city if there was a naval attack on the city. The soldiers used to mane the tower. Current tower was built in 1369 and it looked like a small castle. There used to be a jail in the eighteenth century and then it was used also as a girls' school in the past. Now days, it was being used as a museum, the only good thing to visit that tower was to have a good view of the city but I decided to skip that and walked towards the Roman Bridge.
The Roman Door ( Puerta de Romano)
Known in the Middle Ages under the name Puerta de Algeciras, this was one of the fifteen doors in medieval times that allowed access to the city and which currently only retain the Puerta de Almodóvar, the Seville door and the Bridge door.
By the looks presented today, is also known as the Arc de Triomphe. Later, in the early twentieth century, the door was isolated building and buildings that flanked it so far. Furthermore, the field was reduced regaining its original height. Following its recent restoration that began in September 2005, the Gate Bridge was opened on March 9, 2007.
After passing the door, I saw a tall column of Triunfo de San Rafael (Triumph of Saint Rafael) the most elaborate of many devotional columns and images in Cordoba commemorating the Archangel Raphael's promise to protect its inhabitants. The column sits next to the wall of the Great Mosque. The column was begun in 1765. Michel de Verdiguier made changes to the original design and it was finally finished in 1871.
Next to the column was the south wall of the Cordoba Mosque. This part of the wall was designed like small mehrabs. On one corner of the mosque, there were few horse driven carriages, which were there for the tourists to visit the city for a fee. There was very strong smell of the horse urine and the droppings because the carriages were there all the time even though it was kept clean but the smell was still very strong. I took a right turn on Calle Torrijos and reached the other corner of the mosque, the tower was on my right hand side. I went close to the main entrance and saw that the courtyard of the oranges was full of tourists.
I turned back and walked into the La Juderia (Jewish Quarter), Cordoba's old Jewish quarter consists of a fascinating network of narrow lanes, more atmospheric and less commercialised than many other cities.
Now I was feeling very hungry. I was walking on Calle Deanes; I saw a sign of café called, Oh La La. It was a catchy name so I decided to pay a visit in order to fulfil my stomach's needs. There were lots of dishes on offer but I could only chose vegetarian or the ones made with the cheese. I ordered an omelette with fried pepper roll and fries. The lunch was really tasty after leaving the restaurant, I wondered around in the streets of the old part of Cordoba. The area was full of the tourists and the souvenir shops. When I was passing beside the mosque, I was stopped by a guy and he asked me if I was a Muslim?
Yes I am, I replied but rather surprised.
My name is Bilal and I run a hilal restaurant; please keep this card for yourself if you need to eat later on. Are you a tourist, he continued.
Yes, I am.
Please enjoy the city and you are welcome. He told me.
Thank you. I was still trying to guess whether Bilal was trying to finish or start the communication.
Do you know brother, Cordoba it was the most beautiful city of its time?
Yes, I know a little bit, I answered.
But, hey, it is not the same city, what it used to be but there is still plenty to see, Bilal started to throw me from one side to another. Have you visited the Arab Bridge? He asked me.
You mean the bridge on the other side of the Mosque, the Roman Bridge? I asked.
No brother, that is an Arab Bridge, it was built by the Arabs. The Roman Bridge had broken long time ago.
What is your plan to do in the city, Bilal continued?
I am going to the Alcazar now and I will see what I can do later on.
Very good, you must visit the Alcazar, and then you should go to the Arab Hamams.
OK. I will try.
Let me tell you one more thing, if you visit the Mosque in the Morning, you don’t have to pay for the entry ticket.
Oh, thanks, Bilal, that is a good tip.
No please, try to understand, you will save money and there will not be too many tourists so you could enjoy the building from peacefully from inside.
I thanked Bilal for the tips and went straight ahead and reached at the other end of the Calle Teerijos. Then I turned right on Calle Amador de los Rios, next to the street was a small grove of dates and there were few benches and some of the Cordovans were sitting and enjoying the hot afternoon. Now Alcazar was on my left hand side. I purchased the ticket at the counter and entered the building.
Alkazar de Reyes
After entering the palace, I turned left and entered a small door and next to it were stairs leading to the top of the tower. I decided to take the stairs. I had only climbed few stairs; in front of me was an old woman who was struggling to climb. She looked at me in an apologetic way because she was standing there in order to get her breath back. There was a young guy in front of her who was saying something in Spanish. May be he was encouraging her to keep going. She took three more steps and she stopped again. She looked at me again and she was bit embarrassed. Then her son came back, he grabbed her hand in order to give her support and she started to climb again.
When I reached on top of the tower, I had a good view of the mosque and the surrounding area. I could see mountains in the far distance.
The Lions Tower
The North West tower is the oldest tower of all; square in shape it has two floors. There are wide Almohad-style bands on the four external sides.
Homage Tower or Keep
Then I walked straight up to another tower which lies in north-east of the building. This is where the occupants swore oaths to protect the fortress. On the top floor is the Reception Hall which has an attractive vaulted ceiling with ribs supported by capitals featuring vegetation sculptures. From the roof a smaller raised tower with a covered balcony proved the ideal place for the inquisition to carry out its public executions.
The Patio Moriscos in the west, and the Court of Women on the east side. Salon Mosaic is rectangular in shape, and is so named because it houses several mosaics found in excavations in the city of Córdoba, and have been exposed in this old chapel. From there, I could see the old courtyard and patio women's prison called "Courtyard of women."
The Moorish style baths are situated in the basement. They may well have been built by Alfonso XI. The first room is the changing room. The next three rooms are the Cold Room, the Warm Room and the Hot Room. There are skylights in groups of threes in the shape of stars which provide light and ventilation. The walls are made from hardened clay and some of the original marble floor slabs remain.
Existing Alcazar Gardens are set in the mid-twentieth century. It is structured in three terraces on different levels, with fountains and large pools surrounded by the most beautiful plants. But this garden has undergone changes in the past many times. It has a wide variety of plants, palm trees, cypresses, orange and lemon, trees to be seen which overlook stone fountains and large ponds. Originally the water was brought in by an aqueduct from the Sierra Morena and the great Albulafia waterwheel in the River Guadalquivir nearby helped with the supply.
There were many statues around the gardens, including the one that recalls the meeting between the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella and Christopher Columbus.
After coming out of the Alcazar, I wanted to go the Arab Hamams, I followed the sign of hamam on the map and it brought me to a building. Once inside the building, I met a guy and a girl and both were wearing red t-shirts. I told them that I was looking for the old Arab Hamams. They told me that the building I was constructed in the sixteenth century and it was currently being used as hamam for the Cordovans and it was only opened in 2001. And if I wanted to visit the old hamams I needed to pass the mosque, reach Alcazar and then turn right. I thanked the guy for his assistance and started to walk back to the Alcazar. On the right hand side was a tourist kiosk. I asked the girl on the counter. She gave me a map and encircled the location of the hamams. I walked through a small garden and saw a statue of Al-Hakim II there.
915-976, Umayyad caliph of Córdoba (961-76), son and successor of Abd al-Rehman III. In the early part of his reign he successfully waged war against the Christian kings, Sancho I of León and Castile and Garcia of Navarre. His naval forces defeated Norman sea raiders and seized Tangier from the Idrisids, thereby annexing Morocco to Moorish Spain. A scholar and patron of the arts and sciences, al-Hakam II made Córdoba a preeminent centre of learning. He amassed a library of approximately 400,000 volumes, established numerous schools, sponsored scholars and attracted to the university founded by his father Christians and Muslims not only from Spain but from other parts of Western Europe and from Asia and Africa.
Arab Hamams or Banos Califas
I took a small walkway which brought me down to the ticket office, after purchasing the ticket I entered the building. It had a model of the complex on display and most of the uncovered was already renovated.
About the building
These hamams were accidently discovered in 1903 but they were covered again. Between 1961 and 1964, this site was excavated by the expert archaeologists, and then true nature of the complex came to the light. It is believed that those hamams used to have hot and cold water 24 hours a day. They were built during the reign of Al-Hakam II. The walls were built with the stones and many arches were constructed to add to the beauty of the place. Marble was also used in some parts of the hamams. In order to get day light into the building, there were small holes in the ceiling and they looked like stars in the sky.
Now I came to the statue of Aveross ( Ibn e -Rushd) on Calle Cairuan. It was next to the city's defensive wall. I took few photos of the statues and then a guy approached me and told me that he could take my photos there (He spoke in Urdu). I was nicely surprised. He was an old man with two cameras in his neck and a face with a pleasant smile. Before I could ask him a question. He told me in English that he was born in Pakistan but he left the country in 1955 and settled in the USA. Then he introduces me to his wife. She shook my hand quiet firmly.
Are you from India, she asked me.
No, I am from Pakistan. I replied.
Very nice, I had visited Pakistan few times in the past. I was doing a research in Pakistan in 1951 and bumped into my future husband, who was serving in the military at that time, she continued.
I looked at the guy; he seemed very pleased with her statement.
And we are still together, he added. Are you ready for you photo? He asked me again.
Oh, sorry, I forgot, yes, I am.
He took my photos and I stayed beside the statue he gave my camera back to me. Both of them shook my hand and walked away. I never asked them for their names but they were a lovely couple indeed.
Aveross ( Ibn-e Rushd)
Abu'l Waleed Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Rushd, known as Averroes in the West, was born in 1126 A.D. in Cordoba, where his father and grandfather had both been judges. His grandfather was well versed in Fiqh and was also the Imam of the Jamia Mosque of Cordoba.
Ibn Rushd made remarkable contributions in philosophy, logic, medicine, music and jurisprudence. Influential Islamic religious philosopher who integrated Islamic traditions with ancient Greek thought. At the request of the Almohad caliph Abu Ya?qub Yusuf, he produced a series of summaries and commentaries on most of Aristotle’s works (1169-95) and on Plato’s Republic, which exerted considerable influence in both the Islamic world and Europe for centuries. He wrote the Decisive Treatise on the Agreement between Religious Law and Philosophy (Fa?l al-Ma?al), Examination of the Methods of Proof Concerning the Doctrines of Religion (Kashf al-Manahij), and The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafut).
He died in 1198 in Marrakech (morocco). Then I went to a small corner shop, which was located on the opposite side. I bought few drinks and sat there on a chair to relax because it was still very hot in Cordoba. I took a can of ginger ale (soft drink), I knew it was going to be bitter but it was the bitterest ale I had ever come across.
After rejuvenating myself (without ginger ale), I walked beside the city walls, there was a restaurant inside the wall and door was erected in the wall and next to the restaurant was NH Amistad Hotel. Hotels' entrance was a door in the wall. As I walked in the area, I saw few pigeons sitting on the wall and enjoy they view (I hope, they were). Then I reached old door of the city, called The Almodovar Gate.
The City walls
In ancient times, Cordoba was surrounded by massive city walls. Although only a few fragments survived to date, the city wall’s relics are nothing but impressive. Even today, visitors would be surprised to see the strength and the beauty of the former important city walls. Among the outlasting remains there are three city gates: the 10th century Seville Gate (Puerta de Sevilla), the Jew Gate (Puerta de Almodovar), and the Bridge Gate. Largely untouched portions of the wall can be found along the river to the west of the Roman Bridge, in Cairuan Street (Calle de Cairuan), as well as in Marrubial Street (Ronda de Marrubial).
The Almodóvar Gate (Puerta de Almodovar)
This door used to be called Bab al-Chawz or Walnut Gate. It was built during the Muslim period. In 1802 this door was renovated, this gate used to be an access to the La Juderia. On one side of the door, there was a statue of Seneca. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 1 BCE - CE 65) was born in Cordoba. He was a major philosophical figure of the Roman Imperial Period.
Patios of Cordoba
Once inside the door, I saw shops and the houses were built on both sides of the street and some of them had flowers hanging on their windows and the walls. Cordoba is known for its beautiful patios filled with plants and flowers. Every spring Cordoba bursts into bloom with special festivities for the month of May. Starting off with a parade known as the “Battle of the Flowers”, the city officially launches into its spring celebrations.
Due to the hot, dry Cordovan climate, the city's inhabitants, - first the Romans and later the Muslims - adapted the typical design of the popular house to their needs, making the home centre around an inner courtyard (patio in Spanish), normally with a fountain in the middle and often a well to collect rainwater. The Muslims made further adjustments, giving the house an entrance from the street which passed through a porch, and filling the courtyard with plants to give the sensation of freshness.
My next destination was the Water Mill of Albulafia, after passing the city wall and alcazar, I came to the Roman Bridge in order to take right turn on the riverside but it was closed. I was disappointed but I wasn’t going to give up that easily.