When the Abbassids took control of the Arab empire in the year 750, they were unable to retain power in many of the more remote areas of the realm and within a short space of time a series of so-called heresies were established throughout the Maghreb and al-Andalus, the Arab dominated part of the Iberian Peninsula. One such heresy was the Emirate of Cordoba, which was proclaimed in 756 by the Ummayyad prince Abd ar-Rahman I.
Initially the range and strength of the emirate varied considerably, nominally on the fringes, where it bordered and subsequently clashed with Christian civilization. Eventually though, by the year 912 prince Abd ar-Rahman III. had managed to restore and secure power in all of al-Andaluz and even managed to expand the emirate’s territory into North Africa and the Maghreb. By 929 Abd ar-Rahman felt sufficiently confident in his rule to proclaim himself the rightful ruler of the Caliphate of Cordoba. In doing so he was openly challenging the legitimacy of the Abbassid claim to power as the supreme rulers of all Muslims. Abd ar-Rahman’s proclamation set the stage for a confrontation with the Abbassid Caliphate in the heartland of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula, and the ambitious Fatimid Caliphate of North Africa. Eventually, it was the Fatimids who would emerge as the winners of the conflict. Not necessarily because they had the strongest armies but because they had managed to retain unity within their realm during the course of the ensuing power struggle.
The Ummayyad Caliphate never fully recovered from the efforts of war and subsequent defeat and gradually went into a decline. Eventually the Caliphate of Cordoba was officially abolished in 1023 with the deposition of the last Caliph, Hischam III. The Fatimids in turn, went on to conquer Egypt, where they would eventually establish Cairo – the City Victorious – as their capital.
On my first evening in Cordoba I have a ticket to visit the cathedral of the city. The doors open at 22:30 and the guided tour takes a bit more than an hour. The tour is similar to the Sound and Light Show they have in the evenings at the Giza Pyramids in Cairo.
If ever you have the good fortune to visit Cordoba, I can only recommend the night tour. First of all because there are far less people there by night, and secondly, more importantly, because the atmosphere is simply magical. The cathedral was originally built as a mosque and repeatedly expanded during the reign of the Ummayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus. Later, when the Christians had reconquered the Iberian Peninsula, the mosque was converted into a cathedral. And what a mess they made of it! Even so, it is a fascinating place to visit, it is unique and very likely the only place on the planet where you are likely ever to see statues of those plump little Christian angels alongside traces of Islamic architecture at its very finest, with beautiful inscriptions written in Arabic praising the virtues of the rulers who had commissioned the construction of some part or other of the original mosque.
Unfortunately photography is not permitted so the only pictures I have to share with you are from the outside.
Here are some pictures I took of the cathedral in daylight.
On my second day in Cordoba I head out of town to Madinat Az-Zahra, the former residence of Caliph Abd Ar-Rahman III. The Madina was essentially a city inhabited by the people who worked, in some form or other, at the court and in the government of the mighty Caliph. Only ruins remain today of this splendid city.
Have I already mentioned just how bad the weather was in Cordoba during my stay? Just in case I haven’t, let me tell you it was something nasty! There is little or no shelter from the elements among the ruins of the Madina. Just as I start to make my way back to the shuttle that takes passengers from the site back down the hill to the museum, there is a torrential outburst of rain! It must have been this kind of down poor that convinced Noah to build his arch, and I don’t blame him!