(left) Detail of Torre de Calahorra (after Arabic Qalaat al-Hurriya, meaning Tower of Freedom or rather free-standing tower); (right) a view of the tower and of the bridge it protects
To the Saracen Caliphs of the Ommayad family Cordova is indebted for its glory; as
we hear but little of it before the year 755,
when Abdoulrahman, only heir-male of
the Ommayad line, passed over from Africa,
at the head of a few desperate followers, and
found means to raise a rebellion in Spain.
After a battle fought on the banks of the
Guadalquiver, in which he overthrew the
lieutenant of the Abbasid Caliph, Abdoulrahman became king of all the
Moorish possessions in the South of Spain,
and in 759 fixed his royal residence at Cordova.
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated.
The Emirs and Caliphs of Cordoba
1960s statues of learned men: (left) Ibn Hazm (XIth century) at (reconstructed) Puerta de Sevilla; (centre) Averroes (XIIth century) near Puerta de Almodovar (Walnut); (right) Maimonides (XIIth century) in the former Jewish quarter (see his tomb at Tiberias)
The residence of the Ommayad Caliphs was long conspicuous for its supreme magnificence, and the crowds of learned men, who were allured to it by the protection offered by its sovereigns. (..) These Sultans not only gave the most distinguished protection to arts and sciences, and to the persons learned in any of them, but were themselves eminently versed in various branches of knowledge. Alkehem the Second collected so immense a quantity of manuscripts, that before the end of his reign, the royal library contained no less than six hundred thousand volumes. (..) The university of Cordova was founded by him, and under such favourable auspices, rose to the highest pitch of celebrity. Swinburne
Puerta de Almodovar and 1965 statue of Seneca, a Ist century AD Roman philosopher born at Cordoba
I am just informed that our wheel will
require another day to be refitted; which
is a terrible piece of news indeed this rainy
weather; for every day the roads will grow
worse and worse, and we are not able to
ride about to see the environs. Were there
such a thing as a bookseller in this once
learned city, I would buy Seneca, and try
what consolation his philosophy affords in
his native country. Swinburne
Puerta de Almodovar is one of three remaining medieval gates of Cordoba. It was redesigned in the XIVth century. The original gate most likely had a horseshoe arch.
(left) Walls near Puerta de Almodovar with square towers; (right) a polygonal tower near Puerta de Sevilla
The walk round the lonely walls is
picturesque. They are Moorish, and
built of "tapia"; with their gates and
towers they must have been nearly
similar to that original circumvallation described by Caesar (De Bello Civili).
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
Estimates of the population of Cordoba at its apogee in the Xth century greatly vary. The figure of one million inhabitants which is deduced from Arab chronicles of the number of its mosques and bathhouses is often quoted. A more reasonable assessment is in the region of 150,000-450,000. Considering the size of the medina, the walled town, the lower figure seems more realistic. Even this figure made Cordoba the most populated city of Europe together with Constantinople.
(left) Tower near (lost) Puerta del Rincon (corner); (right) Torre de la Malmuerta
The Muslim rulers of Cordoba built additional walls to protect Axarquia, a new neighbourhood in the eastern part of the town; the name comes from the Arabic sharqi meaning eastern. Puerta del Rincon was one of the passages between the medina and Axarquia.
The pentagon tower, near "La Mala Muerte" was erected in 1406 by Enrique III. Ford
This tower was built at the beginning of the XVth century on the site of a Moorish one. It is named Malmuerta (wrongly killed) because according to legend it was built as a vow by a knight who had killed his wife on the wrong assumption she had committed adultery.
Archaeological Museum of Cordoba: caliphal period Xth-XIth centuries: (left) jewels; (right) lusterware bowl (some of the wares found at Cordoba are regarded as early examples of "cuerda seca", a technique for using a plurality of colours)
Wealth of the Caliphs of CordobaI cannot give you a greater proof of the prodigious opulence and grandeur of the Arabians in the tenth century, than by enumerating the presents made to Abdoulrahman the Third by Aboumelik, named in 938 to the post of grand vizir. He caused to be brought before the throne, and laid at the feet of his master:
Four hundred pounds of virgin gold.
Lingots of silver to the value of 420,000 sequins.
Four hundred pounds of lignum aloes, one piece weighing one hundred and forty pounds.
Five hundred ounces of ambergrease.
Three hundred ounces of camphore.
Thirty pieces of gold tissue, so rich that none but the Caliph could wear it.
Ten suits of Khorassan sables. One hundred suits of Fur of a less valuable sort.
Forty-eight sets of gold and silk long trappings for horses.
Four thousand pounds of silk.
Thirty Persian carpets.
Eight hundred iron coats of mail for war horses.
One thousand shields.
One hundred thousand arrows.
Fifteen led horses of Arabia, as richly caparisoned as those the Caliph was wont to ride.
One hundred horses of an inferior price.
Twenty mules with all their accoutrements.
Forty young men, and twenty girls of exquisite beauty, and most sumptuously decked out.
This display of riches was accompanied with a most flattering poem, composed by the minister in praise of his sovereign, who, in return for this homage, assigned him a pension of an hundred thousand pieces of gold.
These particulars are extracts from Histoire d'Afrique, par M. Cardonne, who translated them out of the Arabic. Swinburne
National Archaeological Museum of Madrid: (left) Xth century capital with reliefs of animals; (right) Xth century gilded bronze spout in the form of a doe, perhaps from Medina Azahara
Abdoulrahman the Second was also passionately fond of building. He was the
first that brought supplies of water to Cordova, by means of leaden pipes laid upon
aqueducts of stone. The quantity was so
considerable that every part of the palace,
the mosques, baths, squares, and public edifices, had all of them their fountains constantly playing. Swinburne
Caliphal Cordoba was a very cosmopolitan city and its rulers, while strictly complying with the prohibition of portraying living beings in mosques, saw nothing wrong in the depiction of animals for purely decorative purposes in other buildings.
Archaeological Museum of Cordoba: capital, base of a column and a water basin of the caliphal period; the image used as background for this page shows a detail of a marble relief
Cordova became the centre of politeness,
industry, and genius. Tilts and tournaments,
with other costly shews, were long the darling pastimes of a wealthy, happy people;
and this was the only kingdom in the west,
where geometry, astronomy, and physic were regularly studied and practised. (..) That architecture
was greatly encouraged, we need no other
proof than the great and expensive fabrics
undertaken and completed by many of these
Moorish monarchs. Swinburne
The Caliphs of Cordoba were usually in good terms with the Emperors of Constantinople. They shared the same enemies i.e. the Fatimid Caliphs of Ifriqiya (Tunisia) and the Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad. The Great Mosque was decorated with the assistance of Byzantine mosaic makers. It is likely that also some skilled sculptors from Constantinople were employed in the decoration of marble architectural elements (see a capital at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople).
Alminar de San Juan, the minaret of a small mosque which was converted into a church
Abdoulrahman the Third, surpassed all his predecessors in splendour, riches, and expence. (..) The Moors were then masters of all the richest provinces of Spain. (..) This monarch left a minor to succeed him, and the kingdom to be governed by the famous visier Mahomet Abenamir, surnamed Almanzor, or the defender, from his great victories and wise conduct. His descendants inherited from him the visiership, and a power as absolute as if they had been caliphs, until the weakness of the sovereigns encouraged, and the insolence of the ministers provoked the grandees to disturb the state with their jealousies and dissensions; these broils occasioned such a series of civil wars and anarchy, as overthrew the throne of Cordova, and destroyed the whole race of Abdoulrahman. Thus the glorious edifice founded by the valour and prudence of that conqueror, and cemented by similar virtues in many of his successors, sunk into nothing, as soon as the sceptre devolved upon weak, enervated princes, whose indolence and incapacity transferred the management of every thing to a visier. Many petty kingdoms sprang up out of the ruins of this mighty empire; and the Christians soon found opportunities of destroying, by separate attacks, that tremendous power, which when united had proved an overmatch for their utmost force. Swinburne
Banos Califales and details of their decoration
The baths were built in the Xth century for the enjoyment of the caliph and his court. Between the XIth and XIIIth centuries, they were used by the Almoravid and Almohad Moroccan sultans who managed to submit the small taifa (emirates) into which the Caliphate of Cordoba was split in ca 1031. The remains of the baths were found accidentally in 1903 and were subsequently buried. They were recovered in the 1960s and eventually restored.
In 1212 the Almohads suffered a crushing defeat by a Christian coalition in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. The event had long lasting consequences: King Ferdinand III of Castile conquered Cordoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248 with the help of the first Nasrid ruler of Granada.
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|