In this guide to Medina Azahara in Cordoba, we would like to help you discover, understand, and learn about one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the country, which was also declared of cultural interest as a Monument in 1923 and a World Heritage Site in 2018.
Located about 8 kilometers from Cordoba and known as Medina Azahara, a name that comes from the Arabic name Madīnat al-Zahrā, which means the shining city, this city was built by order of Abderraman III, the first caliph of Cordoba, to show off his power and show his superiority to his enemies.
The following information about visiting Medina Azahara is based on our visit to the archaeological site, considered one of Cordoba’s best places to see. Let’s start!
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How To Visit Medina Azahara in Córdoba? A Complete Travel Guide of Medina Azahara
Medina Azahara has a fascinating history that dates back to 929 AD, when Abderraman III, the first caliph of Al-Andalus, ordered to build of this city for purely political and economic reasons as well as ideological reasons since in those times, the dignity of the caliph was shown with the construction and foundation of a new city, as did the eastern caliphates, something that also allowed him to show his superiority against possible enemies clearly.
While great in size, the city did not survive more than 100 years after its creation, being largely destroyed and practically in ruins after the civil war that ended the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1010.
Due to preserving the remains over time, some archaeological work was undertaken in 1911 and has lasted until today, enabling this 112-hectare city of which only a third has been excavated, to become the magnificent archaeological site we see today.
A legacy of history that you can live and discover while visiting some of its most emblematic places.
What to see in Medina Azahara
Before we talk about the sites in Medina Azahara, we want to point out that many areas and details need to be restored, although the archaeological site is small.
Therefore, we recommend that you allow at least two hours for this visit.
Gran Portico – One of the beautiful places to see in Medina Azahara
With 15 arches in its original form and truly incredible dimensions, almost 112 meters long, 3 meters wide, and 10 meters high, the eastern entrance to the Alcazar area.
Over time it was remodeled, and some of the arches of the portico were removed.
High Garden and Low Garden
There are two garden areas in the Alcazar of Medina Azahara, known as the High Garden and the Low Garden. There are also four pools within the Central Pavilion, surrounded by walls on three of its four sides.
In the western part of the High Garden is the Low Garden, where studies and excavations continue.
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From Cordoba, one can reach the North Gate, the entrance to Medina Azahara, where one can see its defensive structure, together with a small area for the soldiers who guarded the site’s access to the city.
Upper basilica building
Located in the eastern part of the fortress, this building receives different names since it is not clear what its function was at the time.
After the excavations, the floor was made of brick, and the wall area was painted in white and rust red, colors combined with the red and gray of the columns and the blue of the capitals.
This is undoubtedly one of the most amazing places in Medina Azahara. Known as the hall of Abd al-Rahman III, this place is the most important area of the site both for its artistic and historical interest, as it was the center of the whole area of the palace.
The vibrant decoration of this enclosure throughout its history suggests that it was used for celebrations and receptions, aside from being the throne hall.
Located outside the walled area and in the eastern part of the High Garden, we find the Aljama Mosque, facing Mecca, where you can see the prayer hall with five naves and the courtyard of ablutions.
House of Ja’far
The House of Ja’far is another of the most important places to see in Medina Azahara. This is believed to be the house of Ja’far ibn Abd al-Rahman, prime minister of the city since 961, although today, there is no clear evidence that this was so.
One of the most striking points of the house is the triple horseshoe arcade supported by columns, which support the facade and is one of the best-known images of Medina Azahara, along with the Rich Hall and the Great Portico.
House of La Alberca
Located in the western area of the House of Yafar, it is believed that this building was the house of the caliph Alhaken II. Although it is not fully excavated, you can currently see the central courtyard, in which there is a pool that gives the current name to the house. In addition, there are several arches and bathrooms.
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Although there is no clear evidence of the person who lived in this house, it is believed that it was the caliph Abd al-Rahman III and hence the name Royal House.
Even though the place suffered a lot of looting, there is still a lot of decoration preserved today, confirming that the house owner was an influential person.
It is also very important to consider those different access roads that had to be built after the construction of Madinat al-Zahra and its subsequent expansion. These roads are as follows:
Camino de las Almunias: The road linked Cordoba with Medina Azahara and Seville through the river’s northern part.
Camino de los Nogales-Carril de los Toros: Communication route between Medina Azahara and Mérida, Toledo and Zaragoza.
Camino de Media Ladera: Access road between Medina Azahara and the Córdoba-Badajoz road.
West Road: This road linked Madinat al-Zahra with Almunia in Alamiriya.
How to get to Medina Azahara
Medina Azahara is located only 8 kilometers from Cordoba on the slope of Jabal al-Arus, facing the Guadalquivir valley.
We leave you with the different options to get to Medina Azahara:
Coming from Cordoba, you should take the A-431 road from Palma del Rio until you reach the sign indicating Madinat al-Zahra.
Once you arrive at the site, you should leave your car in the museum parking lot, the first traffic circle.
Note that the archaeological site is 2 kilometers from the museum. The only authorized transport to get there is the shuttle bus, which leaves every 20 minutes and for which you have to buy a ticket at the museum.
You can leave your car in the museum parking lot, but you will have to take the bus to get to the archaeological site.
To get to Medina Azahara from Cordoba, you can take the tourist bus from Avenida Alcazar, next to the Alcazar.
The price is 8.50 euros round trip, and you have 2:30 hours to visit the archaeological site. Reservations must be made at the Tourist Office or ask at the hotel as some hotels also make reservations.
Schedules are from Tuesday to Sunday at 11h, Saturdays and Sundays are also at 10h, and in summer, there is an additional departure at 16:30h from Tuesday to Saturday.
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Prices, tickets, and opening hours of Medina Azahara
Below are the schedules, fees, and how to buy tickets for Medina Azahara.
The opening hours of Medina Azahara are:
From March 1 to March 31: Tuesday to Saturday from 09 am to 18 pm / Sundays and holidays from 09 am to 15 pm/Monday closed.
From April 1 to June 30: Tuesday to Saturday from 09 am to 21 pm / Sundays and holidays from 09 am to 15 pm/Monday closed.
From July 1st to September 30th: Tuesday to Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm / Sundays and holidays from 9 am to 3 pm / closed on Mondays.
From October 1st to December 31st: Tuesday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm / Sundays and holidays from 9 am to 3 pm / closed on Mondays.
Medina Azahara is also closed on Mondays, January 1st and 6th, May 1st and December 24th, 25th, and 31st.
The entrance to Medina Azahara is free if you are a citizen of the European Union. If you are not, the price is 1.5 euros per person.
Remember that this price does not include a guide and that you must register at the museum before going to the shuttle bus.
The shuttle bus price, which will take you to the archaeological site from the museum, is 2.5 euros round trip. Remember that this is the only way to get to the complex.
It is located 2 kilometers from the museum, and parking and private vehicles are not allowed.
If you take the tourist bus from Cordoba, the price is 9 euros and includes the cost of the shuttle bus.
Tips for visiting Medina Azahara
Besides the information we have included in this post, we also have a series of tips we believe are essential to consider when visiting Medina Azahara.
- Although any time is good to make a route through Medina Azahara, keep in mind that temperatures are usually high in summer. Therefore, we recommend you visit early in the morning or late afternoon.
- Although the entire route runs through accessible and relatively flat terrain, it is advisable to wear comfortable shoes.
- It is not possible to buy water inside the archaeological site, so it is necessary to bring it from outside.
- The parking, as mentioned above, is free and is located next to the museum.
- Remember that the archaeological site is 2 kilometers from the museum and the parking area. Once you leave the car or arrive by bus from Cordoba, you must take the shuttle bus for 1.5 euros, which will take you to the site. This is the only way to access the site, as private vehicles are not allowed.
Where to stay near Medina Azahara
Medina Azahara is located less than 8 kilometers from Cordoba, so staying here is the best option for this visit.
Our recommended accommodation to visit Medina Azahara and Cordoba is the Hospederia Baños Arabes De Cordoba, located in the Jewish quarter and 5 minutes walk from the mosque.
In addition to its excellent location, all guests have free access to the hotel’s Arab baths, including 4 swimming pools and a traditional hammam.
If you have a higher budget, you can opt for the NH Collection Amistad Cordoba, located in a renovated mansion of the eighteenth century, 200 meters from the mosque.