On the 9th October 2009 Queen Sofía opened the Interpretation Centre of Medina Azahara, thus finishing a long four-year process of works for its construction and an investment of more than 20 million euros by the Junta de Andalucía. Although it has some spaces typical of a Modern Museum, the aim of the centre is to provide the archaeological site of the palatial city with an infrastructure which is important enough, dedicated to the management of the heritage and the provision of services. It is located about 800 metres from Medina Azahara, it has an extension of 7,293 m2, and it was designed by architects Fuensanta Nieto and Enrique Sobejano. The rectangular building, with a minimalist architecture, has three floors, two of which are underground, probably a hint for the archaeologists who still have to unveil more work. Its intricate itinerary reminds us of the outline of the streets in Islamic urban planning. The building, dominated by white concrete and steel, establishes a parallelism with the colours of the constructions from the times of the caliphs: white and almagrared. It also tries to respect the architectonic site in an area where it has been proved that there are no archaeological remains left.
The Interpretation Centre of Medina Azahara has been awarded several acknowledgements for its architectonic value: in 2010, the Aga Khan Award of Architecture; in 2011, the Piranesi Award from Rome, organised by the Adrianea Academy of Architecture and Archaeology of Italy; and in May 2012, it was awarded the prize "European Museum of the Year" by the European Museum Forum.
The Interpretation Centre is divided in three areas. The first one is a cultural, exhibition and teaching area, with an auditorium, a permanent exhibition room, Manuel Ocaña’s Library, as a documentation centre for learning and researching, and a seminar classroom for workshops, activities and seminars. The conservation and research area has storehouses (to keep archaeological material), restoration studios, offices for administrative work and a documentation centre, which organises all the documentation generated in the process of researching the site. Finally, there is an area with leisure services, with a café and restaurant, and a shop with books, pottery representations, jewellery and other souvenirs.
The permanent exhibition room tells us the history of the site in four thematic sections. The first one is dedicated to the economic, political and religious context at the moment when the city was founded. The second one explains the building process of Medina Azahara, its consequences and its relation with the city of Córdoba. The third one is focused on the inhabitants, and it divides them in the three big groups that were part of the palatial city: Medina, Mosque and Fortress. And the fourth one deals with the destruction process and the pillaging Medina Azahara experienced and the excavation works started in the 20th century.
Each thematic section is accompanied by a series of original pieces –whose chronology goes from the year 936 to 1013- up to a total of 166, among which we can highlight pottery samples, both in the service area used by the servants and especially the manganese green one used by the official elite, as well as a "Solar Clock", a model of the Caliphal baths, the “Wallada’s small box" or the "Oil lamp" signed by Rasiq; the epigraphic samples, architectonic material in stone and marble, the Arabesques…; the "Bronze Fawn", a small bronze piece used as a water supplier; or the "Small Giraffe", a piece which could have been part of a luxurious dinner service, also used to pour liquid, decorated with white glass and small green and manganese fragments.
If you wish to know the palatial city of Medina Azahara, do not hesitate to hire one of our guided tours. We will explain there a special chapter dedicated to the Interpretation Centre. We are experts in the interpretation of the historic heritage from Córdoba. If you have chosen to do sightseeing in Córdoba, choose a high quality option, choose ArtenCórdoba.
Text: Jesús Pijuán.