Madinat al-Zahra, a planned palatine city located a few miles west of Cordoba, was founded by 'Abd al-Rahman III in 936, shortly after the proclamation of the Umayyad caliphate in al-Andalus. Construction continued during the reign of his successor al-Hakam II.
The city is composed of three terraced platforms, separated from one another by walls, and enclosed by fortified walls. The uppermost terrace contained various buildings for government administration and royal ceremony, as well as residential quarters and gardens for the caliph and the court. The middle terrace was composed mainly of gardens with pavilions and pools, and orchards, while the lowest terrace contained the congregational mosque, markets, and probably residential quarters for the military and for the merchants associated with the market.
Only a fraction of the extensive site has been excavated, among them the congregational mosque, the Salon Rico (also known as the Hall of 'Abd al-Rahman III), the reception hall of the Dar al-Jund (the city's military and equestrian headquarters), the Bab al-Sudda (the monumental gate that gave access to the Dar al-Jund area), and residential courts west of the Dar al-Jund.
The Salon Rico, a major reception hall, is rectangular in plan, with interior arcades of horseshoe arches and a five-bay arcade of horseshoe arches on the façade. The decoration is executed in marble (for the columns, capitals, pavements, and wall revetments) and carved stucco. The Dar al-Jund has a similar plan, and though its decoration is similar to that of the Salon Rico, its ornamental programme was much simpler and was executed in less expensive materials.
Madinat al-Zahra was sacked and burned by Berber troops in the 11th century after the fall of the caliphate. Spoliation of the site was ongoing (some of its pink and blue marble columns adorn the exterior of the Giralda in Seville, for instance), and the site was further neglected as patronage shifted to the eastern side of Cordoba during the reign of the powerful vizir al-Mansur. Excavations were begun at Madinat al-Zahra in 1910.
Ewert, Christian. 1996. Die Dekorelemente der Wandfelder im Reichen Saal von Madinat al-Zahra : eine Studie zum westumaiyadischen Bauschmuck des hohen 10. Mainz am Rhein : P. von Zabern.
Vallejo Triano, Antonio, ed. Madinat al-Zahra : el Salon de Abd al-Rahman III. Cordoba : Junta de Andalucia, Consejeria de Cultura.
Ruggles, D.F. 2000. "Madinat al-Zahra." Gardens, Landscape, and Vision in the Palaces of Islamic Spain. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 53-85.
Vallejo Triano, Antonio. 1992. "Madinat al-Zahra : the triumph of the Islamic state." al-Andalus: the art of Islamic Spain edited by Jerrilynn D. Dodds