Reading time 5 minutes
It has been 107 years since the first excavations began in what was considered Córdoba La Vieja (the old Roman city) to finish the most interesting Umayyad archeological site in the world.
Or what is the same, to find, rehabilitate and make up what was the most ambitious project of the already hungry Caliph Abderramán III, who decided to build a place that was a showcase of his political and religious power.
A metropolis that was ephemeral (barely resisted 80 years before civil brawls ended up destroying it), but in its short life it had time to show all the urban, architectural and artistic wisdom of this civilization.
Aerial view of Medina Azahara © Madinat al-Zahra Archaeological Site (CAMaZ)
This merit has been the main supporter so that, in its forty-second session, UNESCO has registered it as World Heritage . After all, in recent years, this UN specialized agency had archeology, in addition to cultural landscapes, its main obsession.
THE CITY AS A MONUMENT
Beyond fashions and bureaucratic trends, this recognition is an act of justice with one of the archaeological sites that, with greater skill, have become a cultural project.
Its main value is that it is the place where that Córdoba that reached up to a million inhabitants would be rethought from scratch. Or rather, where it will condense all its power in the form of an intelligent city, located.
That is to say, a monument is not rewarded, no matter how much the Great Portico or the Rich Hall is a sample of the constructive and decorative virtuosity of Al Andalus. A city built from scratch is recognized, planned under the concepts of the city of the time and built in order to hold the political and religious power of a new empire, which makes it unique in the world.
It has allowed us to discover the idea of capital that the Umayyads had in mind © Getty Images
His model was conceived from north to south, from the top of a hillside where Sierra Morena lies to the banks of the Guadalquivir, divided into three zones according to height: the predominant caliphate, the administrative one in the heart of everything and housing in the lower part . And all these parts communicated by a system of streets and bridges very advanced as well as by the already known and exemplary system of irrigation Umayyad.
In short, the inclusion of Medina Azahara in the list of UNESCO World Heritage goods means focusing on a site that, over the years, has allowed us to discover what the idea of capital that the Umayyads had in mind two centuries after his defeat in Damascus.
A modern city that did not give up any of the aesthetic spells of its art but did not forget the efficiency and the needs of what was to be the heart of a new caliphate (in every way).
VISIT WITHOUT ENCYCLOPEDIA
It is not that UNESCO rewards the accessibility of a monument or the way it is displayed to the public, but in this case it could have done so. Spain there are things for which it is an example, and one of them is how it manages to make tourism the main promotional element for this type of candidacies and achievements. And Medina Azahara is an example of this.
Discovered in 1911, intermittent excavation work gradually revealed the impressive metropolis that died young.
This wonder can be visited for free or on guided tours © Getty Images
However, it was still a difficult task to place this finding alongside other inheritances of Andalusian art such as the Alhambra in Granada, the Mosque of Cordoba or the Royal Alcazars of Seville. However, in recent decades, the miracle was gradually becoming real thanks to the work of dissemination of visits.
Currently, archaeologists and tourists live on the hillside without rubbing. The proposed visits to the site are varied: from the free tour, for which the citizens of the European Union only have to pay the shuttle bus, to the guided tours, which depart from the site or from the very same Córdoba. There is no excuse.
To the consolidation of the space, the free access and the variety of ways to get to know it, we must add a fourth success factor: the museum and visitor center.
Opened in 2009, this complex is a work of art in itself as the design of Nieto Sobejano manages to create a set of modern spaces that do not impact the environment. Not surprisingly, two of its plants are underground and the neatness of its lines makes art and Caliphate furniture the true protagonists of everything.
And, also, that many lovers of contemporary architecture find an incentive to discover the past since this building managed to win the 2010 Aga Khan prize , the 2011 Piranesi and the 2012 Museum of the Year Award in Europe in 2012.
It will stop being a plus to any visit to Córdoba to become a key axis in the getaway © Getty Images
All this explains that last year it received more than 180, 000 visitors, which makes it one of the most popular sites in Spain next to Ampurias or Atapuerca. Therefore, the recognition of UNESCO does not imply 'putting the batteries' at the level of tourism infrastructure, but rather a boost.
In fact, the runrún on its inclusion in this list had caused that in the first months of the year the number of tickets sold to know Medina Azahara grew by 12% in relation to the same period last year.
THE CHALLENGES OF THE FUTURE
With this joy, Córdoba becomes the only city in the world to have four World Heritage properties since its Mosque-Cathedral, its Historic Center and its courtyards and the tradition of adorning them in May were already part of the list.
However, this rush also leaves the odd task. The first, continue with the work of dissemination about the space that has made it increasingly have more followers. The second, finish the rehabilitation works and allow everyone to enjoy in a sustainable way the indescribable beauty of the Rico Hall, still closed to the general public. And third, getting the impact and urban pressure of the surroundings does not threaten the complex.
At least, now, Medina Azahara will cease to be a plus to any visit to Córdoba to become a key axis in the getaway. You already have the blessing of UNESCO, the iconic poster that gives so many joys and an infrastructure adequate enough to continue telling what one day was the dream of a great ruler.
In 2017 it received more than 180, 000 visitors © iStock