Did you already recover from my red and white striped post about Córdoba in Spain? What if I’d say there is more where that came from? Surprised, aren’t you? But don’t worry, I will not throw more pictures of the Mezquita of Córdoba at you, but I do have something else for you. I took a day trip from Córdoba to the ruins of Madinat al-Zahra and I’d like to share this amazing site with you.
In all fairness, I had never heard from this place either. When you plan a road trip to Andalusia, you know you’ll visit Malaga, Ronda, Seville, Córdoba and Granada. But there are hidden gems here and there in between. The ruins of Madinat al-Zahra, just outside of Córdoba are one of them. Ready for more red and white stripy goodness? Keep on reading.
The Ruins of Madinat al-Zahra
The archeologic site of Madinat al-Zahra (also named Medina Azahara) shows you the history of a grand city structured palace. Caliph Abd al Rahman III built the city around 940 AD. You can roam through the streets of the city, walk under the arches and marvel at the great views of the hills surrounding Córdoba.
The uniqueness of these ruins lay in the fact that the Caliph built the city at the top of his reign, but he only ruled for a short period (35 years). Berbers sacked and pillaged the city and the materials of Madinat al-Zahra were used all over the region. After 1010 AD, Madinat al-Zahra was soon forgotten. It wasn’t until 1910 when excavation of the site began to unravel the mysteries of this period. This makes a day trip from Córdoba to Madinat al-Zahra a unique experience, because it really feels like time stood still. Only 10% of the ancient city is excavated but they uncovered some true architectural gems.
It is all in the name
Madinat al-Zahra was built by a Caliph but the city doesn’t carry his name. The legend has it that the caliph had many wives. Syrian Az-Zahra was his favourite. She suffered from home sickness to Syria. As a present to her, he built the palace and surrounded the grounds with lovely blossom trees and parks. In spring time, the white blossoms would drift on the wind, making it look like snow, resembling the snow-capped Syrian mountains.
What to see at Madinat al-Zahra
The site of Madinat al-Zahra is not particular big (it is not Ephesus in Turkey, more like the ruins of Knidos) but has some interesting features. When you follow the path, you visit several ‘offices’ with great arches. They are built like a basilica (ancient market hall) with a larger open space capped with dome-like arches.
The Pórtico de Madinat al-Zahra at the side of the ruins is adorned with red and white arches, in my opinion one of the highlights. The views of the unexcavated lands as you walk down to the arches are striking.
Another diamond is the decoration of the house of the prime minister of the caliph. Delicate floral patterns adorn the arches in the house. Unfortunately, the royal reception hall was still under restoration, so I didn’t get to see it myself.
The museum of Madinat al-Zahra
He ruins and the whole site of Madinat al-Zahra are on the tentative list of Unesco World Heritage, showing its importance as an historic time stamp of the great Arab ruler in modern day Andalusia Spain.
In 2009 a modern museum opened at the bottom of the site. I didn’t visit it myself but it showcases many Islamic artefacts found at the site of Madinat al-Zahra. It serves as a unique time stamp and exhibits the urban lay-out and planning of cities in this period.
Day trip from Córdoba
Only located 8 km west from Córdoba, the ruins of Madinat al-Zahra can be easily visited on a day trip from Córdoba or en route to the city. You start at the museum where you can take the shuttle bus to the ruins.
You must buy a ticket for the bus at the museum. The shuttle bus costs €2 and runs every 20 minutes. The entrance to the ruins and museum of Madinat al-Zahra is free for EU citizens and €1,50 for others.
How to get to Madinat al-Zahra?
By car: follow the signs on Avenida de Madinat al-Zahra from Cordoba. You can park your car for free at the carpark of the museum. You buy your ticket for the shuttle bus at the museum for €2.
By bus: tourist busses run daily from Córdoba (bus stop Puerta de Almodóvar) to Madinat al-Zahra. Tickets are €8,50 for a return, including the shuttle bus to the site. You must book this with an agency in Córdoba or you can book online.
By taxi: because the museum of Madinat al-Zahra is only 6 km away from Córdoba, it is fairly affordable to ask a taxi driver to drop you off at the museum car park.
By tour: you can also book your day trip to from Córdoba to Madinat al-Zahra as a guided tour. Prices vary; check the local tour offices in Córdoba.
Read more: One day in Córdoba
Read more: Itinerary for Andalusian Road Trip
Can’t get enough of the red and white striped design of Córdoba? Why not consider a day trip from Córdoba to Madinat al-Zahra. Explore the ruins of the 10th century city and soak up the ancient Arab city planning and architecture.