Name of Monument:

Madinat al-Zahra


Ctra. de Palma del Río, km 8, Córdoba, Spain

Date of Monument:

Hegira 324–65 / AD 936–76

Architect(s) / master-builder(s):

Masons: Berd, Nasr, Fatah, Aflah and Tariq; architect and geometrist: Maslama ibn Abd Allah.

Period / Dynasty:

Umayyad of al-Andalus, Caliphate period


Abd al-Rahman III (r. AH 299–350 / AD 912–61); al-Hakam II (r. AH 350–66 / AD 961–76).


The city lasted 74 years, after which it was systematically destroyed and many individuals took advantage of its subsequent abandonment, taking numerous architectural fragments, capitals, bases, etc., some of which are still available on the market today.


Civil architecture in Umayyad Spain is known to us through some public works and in particular Madinat al-Zahra, a large palace complex that Abd al-Rahman III turned into a city. Located at the foot of the mountains below Yebel al-Arus and beside Córdoba, it had a mosque from AH 329 / AD 941 and a mint from AH 336 / AD 947. Construction of the palaces started in AH 324 / AD 936 and lasted until AH 365 / AD 976, 15 years into the reign of al-Hakam II. Chroniclers and geographers provided copious reports of the splendour of the works, more concerned with astounding than with describing their organisation or artistic details. Nonetheless, references to the magnitude of the palaces, the thousands of columns, doors, etc. provide us with objective data on the complex.
The size and complexity of Madinat al-Zahra resembles the great Abbasid palaces of Iraq, although they differ in details of layout and construction. The layout is extremely irregular, in part due to the steep slope, and it covers an area of some 120 hectares. Recent studies have revealed aspects linking the city with the East, specifically the courtyards with one or two opposed porticoes, which appear to have parallels in the Iraqi palace of Ukhaydir. There is mention of Eastern master builders from Baghdad, Damascus and Constantinople, Byzantine mosaicists from Greece, Rome and Carthage, and marble masons and countless artists from the widest variety of specialities. As the seat of a new form of power in al-Andalus and the home of the caliph and his court, the buildings intended for residential use constituted the most extensive, if not the most monumental, part of the new city. We know of the existence of 17 residential buildings, some with courtyards, a central element that allowed light into the home, and others without.
In 1944 the Rich Room (Salón Rico) was discovered, the history of which is recorded in inscriptions: a frieze exalts Abd al-Rahman for having commissioned it, and includes the date of its completion, AH 956–7. The year AH 954 is marked on the pilasters of various capitals, with the names of respective masons: Berd, Nasr, Fatah, Aflah and Tariq. Conversely, the director and planner of the works, who may well have been an Easterner of great ingenuity and knowledge, is not named. We are only aware of Maslama ibn Abd Allah, architect and geometrist, who served Caliph Abd al-Rahman III 'The Conqueror' as an inspector of works. The aforementioned room was laid out like the mosques, which shows how religious architecture was adopted for palace buildings.

View Short Description

Since it was built, Madinat al-Zahra has been a legend whose marvels have been recounted in chronicles and sung by poets. Erected near to Córdoba by ‘Abd al-Rahman III, this palatine city was the residence of the caliph and his court and included administrative buildings. It was built using a hierarchical scheme over three terraces, with the citadel at the top, the medina at the bottom and the gardens in the middle. In the centre, the Rich Hall hosted courtly celebrations and ambassadorial receptions later described by writers. It was soon sacked and destroyed after the fall of the caliphate.

How Monument was dated:

From inscriptions and successive archaeological digs: the first in 1910–23, the second in 1923–75, the third in 1975–82 and the fourth since 1984.

Selected bibliography:

Almagro, A., “Análisis Tipológico de la Arquitectura Residencial de Madinat al-Zahra”, in Al-Andalus und Europa: Zwischen Orient und Okzident, (dir. M. Müller-Wiener, Ch. Kothe, K.-H. Golzio and J. Gierlichs), Petersberg, 2004, pp.117–24.
Arias, I., Balmaseda, L., Franco, á. and Papí, C., “Documentación, Inventario y Catalogación de los Materiales Procedentes de Medina Azahara (Córdoba) en el Museo Arqueológico Nacional”, Boletín del Museo Arqueológico Nacional, 19, Madrid, 2001, pp.88–127.
Gómez Moreno, M., El Arte árabe Español Hasta los Almohades. Arte Mozárabe,Ars Hispaniae, Vol. III, Madrid, 1951, pp.63–75 and 82–9.
Vallejo Triano, A. (ed.), Madinat al-Zahra: El Salón de Abd al-Rahman III, Exhibition catalogue, Córdoba, 1995.
Velázquez Bosco, R., Medina Azzahra y Alamiriya: Arte del Califato de Córdoba, Madrid, 1912.

Citation of this web page:

Ángela Franco "Madinat al-Zahra" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020.;ISL;es;Mon01;2;en

Prepared by: Ángela Franco
Copyedited by: Rosalía Aller
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: SP 02