In 936 AD Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III decided to move the seat of the government away from the “devil making” dealings of Cordoba city and hence built a new Royal City 8 kilometers outside of the city, Medina Azahara. He chose the site of an old Roman settlement and reused any of the Roman building remains and created a magnificent royal city that housed all his government, the royal family and a full garrison to protect them all. The city was dedicated and was named in the honour of his wife ‘Zahra’ and became known as ‘Madinat al-Zahra’ (City of Zahra) and later corrupted in Spanish to Medina Azahara. Sadly this magnificent city was destroyed in the civil war between the Berbers and the Moors, and it was lost for over 1000 years. Luckily by sheer accident the city was discovered in 1911 and excavation still continues. Medina Azahara was declared a National Monument in 1923.
It took Abd al-Rahman twenty-five years to build Madinat al-Zahra. The city existed for merely sixty-five years. For nine centuries it slept, forgotten beneath a hard dirt cover. Following eighty years of restoration work, about one tenth of the medina has been excavated, representing one third of the upper terrace: the noble part which houses the alcazar with the caliph’s palace and the most important dignitaries’ houses, together with the government bodies and military buildings. On the middle terrace, only the mosque has been excavated. The souk was also at this level, together with many gardens with pools, fountains and cages housing wild animals and exotic birds. The lower terrace was devoted to infantry and cavalry housing.