Did you know that April 18
is World Heritage Day? It´s also called World International Monuments and Sites Day
and is a day to celebrate the diversity of cultural heritage and the importance of trying to protect and conserve
it. The perfect time to remind ourselves of just how many amazing World Heritage Sites we have here in Andalucia and share the news that two local sites look set to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List soon…
Photo: aerial view of Medina Azahara and the Sierra Morena foothills, near Cordoba (Optimista blog).
Medina Azahara & Antequera dolmens to be declared World Heritage Sites
Medina Azahara (also known by its Arabic name Madinat-al-Zahra) is located just 8km outside of Cordoba and was built as a royal palace-city and capital of Al-Andalus by Caliph Abd al-Rahman III in the 10th century.
Billed as the “Versailles of the Middle Ages”, the city complex was situated on the slopes of the Sierra Morena hills, split over three terraces, with the caliph’s palace (the area you visit today) on the highest levels, overlooking what were gardens and open fields. The residential areas (still unexcavated) were set away to each side on lower terraces.
Construction began around 936AD and took less than 25 years to create an impressive city with luxurious ceremonial reception halls, mosques, administrative and government offices, gardens, a mint, workshops, barracks, residences, and baths. Water was supplied through a complex system of aqueducts. Chroniclers describe over 10,000 workers building the complex on a vast scale and with no expense spared. The best artisans were commissioned to create exquisite palaces and government buildings using only the finest materials from rich marbles and gold and silver tiling to intricate details with precious stones and metals.
Photo: ceremonial courtrooms of Medina Azahara, near Cordoba (Tourism Spain).
The aim was political - to project the image of a powerful, cultured capital at the heart of the Caliph´s newly-declared Western caliphate; and demonstrate his superiority over his rivals, the Fatimids in North Africa and the Eastern Caliphate in Baghdad & Damascus. It worked, but sadly only for a very short time.
In less than 75 years, Medina Azahara had been sacked and destroyed by Berber soldiers in the civil wars and in-fighting that followed. The real jewel of Al-Andalus had been lost forever - and still some 300 years before the Alhambra had even been built! Only around 10% of the original 112-hectare city area has been excavated until now. An excellent modern museum, winner of the Aga Khan award for architecture in 2010, has been installed below the site, close to the parking.
Photo: view of Cordoba´s historic centre and Mezquita, from the Roman bridge.
While the Mezquita (Mosque-Cathedral) of Cordoba, already designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, represents the religious side of what was the largest city in the world 1000 years ago, Medina Azahara shows us how the population actually lived then. If successful, it would be the first representative of European Islamic urban development on the World Heritage List.
How to get to Medina Azahara
Address: Carretera Palma del Río Km 5.5. See location on Google Maps
Medina Azahara opening times:
Photo: El Torcal national park, near Antequera in Andalucia.
SO, WHERE ARE ANDALUCIA´S WORLD HERITAGE SITES?
Spain has an impressive 44 World Heritage Sites listed by UNESCO (only Italy has more) and over 20 more on the Tentative List (like Medina Azahara) for future inclusion. Andalucia boasts six World Heritage Sites, five cultural and one natural. Here they are:
Photo: magnificent Renaissance architecture in Ubeda & Baeza, Jaen province.
Photo: Seville´s Alcazar palace gardens, setting for Game of Thrones 6!
5) ALMERIA, GRANADA & JAEN: Cave Art
- listed under Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin, Iberian Peninsula.
Photo: Cueva de Letreros, cave paintings near Almeria, Andalucia.
Photo: Donana wetlands national park in Huelva province, a paradise for birders.
INTANGIBLE CULTURAL HERITAGE OF HUMANITY
UNESCO also has a List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity which includes cultural traditions and practices, specifically “oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices” which are defined as being “traditional, contemporary and living; inclusive; representative; and community-based”. Andalucia has three traditions on the List:
Photo: the Bienal flamenco festival in Seville.
2) FESTIVAL DE LOS PATIOS, CORDOBA
Photo: the pretty backstreets of Priego de Cordoba rival the famous Patios of Cordoba.
3) THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Including the finest olive oils from Andalucia´s ancient olive groves.
Photo: olive oils from the Priego de Cordoba area are some of the best in the world.
is an award-winning boutique B&B located in the heart of Andalucia, close to Priego de Cordoba
and half way between Granada and Cordoba. Ideally situated as a base for visiting many of these UNESCO World Heritage Sites as easy day trips. www.casaolea.com
Photo: Casa Olea country hotel B&B near Priego de Cordoba, Andalucia.