Cordoba, located within the present-day borders of Spain’s southern region, now bears the name Córdoba. Architectural remnants from the time of the Umayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus still captivate visitors, but these historical remnants truly come to life in the mind after learning about the city’s past. Therefore, let’s continue our series “Cities of Islam” with Cordoba.
Origins of the Name Cordoba
The origin of the name Cordoba is uncertain, but one theory suggests that the suffix “-uba” refers to a southern city, and the word itself might mean “the city of Guadalquivir.”
Archaeological excavations in Cordoba have revealed evidence of a life that has been present in the city for centuries. The fertile lands and the Guadalquivir River to the south have made this area suitable for human settlement. In the 2nd century BC, the Romans, under Claudius Marcellus, took control of Cordoba and reshaped it. The remains of the bridge and the Roman Temple from this period continue to exist today. After the Roman era, Cordoba fell under the rule of the Visigoths and was later captured by Tariq ibn Ziyad in the first quarter of the 8th century during the conquest of Al-Andalus.
Umayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus
After the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate and the rise of the Abbasids, Abd al-Rahman, a descendant of Caliph Hisham, arrived in the Andalusian region through North Africa. Despite facing various rebellions, he managed to suppress them and established the Umayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus in Cordoba. Amidst ongoing political developments, the state apparatus was developed, and urban development activities were initiated in Cordoba. A palace was constructed in the city, known as the “Rusafa Palace,” named after a similar one in Syria. The Rusafa Palace featured a large garden and was situated along the Guadalquivir River. Additionally, the foundations of the Great Mosque of Cordoba (also known as the Mezquita) were laid during this period.
The Great Mosque of Cordoba
As previously mentioned, construction of this mosque was initiated by Abd al-Rahman I and completed with additional expansions in the late 8th century. The Great Mosque of Cordoba served as a place of worship for the Friday congregational prayers and also as an educational center where various lessons were taught. The imam of the mosque held a special status, as they were selected by the head of state from among the prominent jurists of the country.
Architecturally, the mosque’s columns and arches are enchanting, displaying captivating decorative styles. The mosque also featured a spacious courtyard with numerous trees. In the 16th century, a cathedral was built within the mosque, and although it is now used as a Christian place of worship, its name, “La Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba,” still reflects its origins as a mosque.
Medina Azahara Palace
This grand palace, a significant reflection of Islamic architecture, was commissioned by the Umayyads in Cordoba. The surviving remains of this palace, located just outside the city, offer a glimpse into history. The expansive structure included a mosque and gardens, with a stunning pool surrounded by rows of trees in its magnificent garden. Despite its architectural significance, the palace faced destruction shortly after its construction due to political turmoil and was largely forgotten. However, efforts in the past century have unearthed this nine-century-old historical heritage, leading to its inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Books and Libraries
Under the rule of Abd al-Rahman III, who ascended to the throne in the early 10th century, Cordoba experienced a golden age, bringing prosperity to the city and well-being to its people. His son, Hakam II, furthered the city’s cultural and intellectual development. With a keen interest in books, Hakam II expanded the palace library and sent emissaries to various provinces of the Islamic world to acquire books.
Sources indicate that he established a library in Cordoba containing approximately 400,000 volumes, along with 70 public libraries in the city. Additionally, Hakam II established free schools for underprivileged children. The cultural advancements during this period led to the recognition of Andalusian civilization on a European scale, influencing surrounding countries.
The Scholars of Cordoba
As libraries were established and knowledge was prioritized in Cordoba, a respected group of scholars, the ulema, emerged. Many scholars and students from various regions came to the city, turning it into a center of knowledge and culture. Throughout history, a multitude of Andalusian scholars are well known. Notable names include Ibn Masarra, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), and Abbas Ibn Firnas. In addition to students who came to Cordoba, scholars were also sent from Cordoba to Islamic centers of learning in cities such as Baghdad, Damascus, and Kufa. These scholars, upon returning, became influential teachers themselves.
From the Past to the Present: Elements of Cordoba
During the Umayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus, architectural developments and intellectual progress flourished in Cordoba. This led to the well-being of the city’s inhabitants. The Great Mosque of Cordoba, one of the most significant architectural achievements and a symbol of Cordoba’s character, has maintained its status as a symbol with its stunning Andalusian decorative elements.
Over time, Cordoba became a hub for scholars, with a high number of schools and students. Moreover, marketplaces, part of the flourishing trade which was a significant livelihood in Andalusia, were established in Cordoba. These markets continue to thrive in the city today. The annual Feria de Los Patios festival is a testament to Cordoba’s tourism appeal, attracting visitors from around the world.