Hey there! As we’ve previously noted here on the blog, there are a ton of things to see and do in and around Seville, Spain – where we’re currently based – many of which are never even considered by tourists. Especially the ones who only stay for a few days.
One of these places is the Madinat Al-Zahra, also known in English and Spanish as the Medina Azahara, an old Moorish city and palace just west of the city of Cordoba. As it’s only about 1.5 hours from Seville, we hopped in the car one Saturday with our pal, Cat, to go check it out.
Even though we were here in Seville first back in 2013, and have been here once again since late 2014, we had actually never heard of this place. That seems to ring true for a lot of the hidden gems around a country most known by tourists for its few largest cities and handful of world-famous landmarks.
If you dig a little deeper, talk to people, read some more, and get curious about this and that, up and down, and around in Spain, you’ll find all sorts of interesting places to visit. Not that we’re special or anything, as a lot of people do visit places like this. It just feels like people don’t, since you never hear anyone talk about them.
I presume a lot of these are in guidebooks, which we don’t generally read, but I also feel like a lot of Anglos don’t really bother with such places. There’s only so much time on a whirlwind tour for most people.
That’s a good and a bad thing – for all the obvious reasons – but, such is life.
So, after a car-ride escapade from Seville one morning, we landed at the town itself.
Upon first glance, there is no town. That’s because you must park away from it, where there’s now a very new and very nice museum and visitor center. I was actually quite shocked and pleased at how nice it was, being used to sort of half-effort visitor centers at places that aren’t known across the world.
Being residents here, we get that glorious free admission. We didn’t bother with the free movie available to visitors, or the museum really, and walked outside to catch the shuttle bus that would take us up to the palace.
This place is from the 10th century, and was once the capital of the caliphate here. It was a big deal back in the day, and only a small percentage of it is even still present or uncovered.
It’s quite sprawling, so it’s interesting to imagine that it was much, much larger over a thousand years ago.
Most of it is in ruins now, which is not a surprise given it was sacked and looted by the city’s residents during an uprising in the early 11th century.
The government is doing its best to preserve what’s left, though – a very long and very tedious process – and this includes a lot of great Moorish architecture.
If you have a bit of an imagination, you can still stand at the ruins and let your mind go wild with thoughts of what this place was like back in the day.
These guys must have been proud of their sprawling palace and city at the base of the Sierra Morena mountains, overlooking the valleys and plains below and living whatever the good life was back then. For those of the privileged class, anyway.
Sadly, one of the main buildings that’s still standing is currently under construction – and totally covered – so we didn’t get to see any of it. The remaining gardens were also closed, so we were left to look at them from over the hedgerows.
After a couple hours here, we exhausted our brains, our feet, and our cameras, and wound our way back through the labyrinthine passageways to head off and out of town.
While the Medina Azahara is not somewhere you need to dedicate a whole day, it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s the polar opposite of Moorish palaces that most people know here – i.e. the Alhambra in Granada – and a different look at what was and what happened to something on such a grand scale after the populace decided they weren’t having any more of their rulers’ antics.
Sure, it’s nice to preserve things in pristine condition like in Granada, but there’s a lot of history to be had in a ruin like this, especially when it wasn’t just decay that brought it down. It was the populace itself.
Join us in this post for the rest of our day, when we visited the castle in the village of Almodóvar del Río.
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Have you ever been to the Medina Azahara? If so, what’d you think? If not, what say ye? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!