Rich Hall or Abd al-Rahman III Hall
From an artistic and symbolic point of view, the political reception hall of Abd al-Rahman III and the great garden next to it are the most significant spaces preserved from Medina Azahara. Both the hall and the garden were conceived individually, to emphasize the symbolism of the political and religious power of the Caliph and glorify his figure. In the "Rich Hall", both political receptions and main annual religious festivals were celebrated –sacrifices and the breaking of the fast– until the end of the mandate of al-Hakam II in the year 976. During the receptions, the Caliph stayed in the central wall of the hall and, on both sides, depending on his hierarchical relevance, the higher dignitaries and officials of the administration.
Abd al-Rahman III’s Hall was built between the years 953 y 957, as can be read on the epigraphic inscriptions on the bases and pilasters. Its floor follows a basilical scheme, with a main centre, integrated by two sets of horseshoe arches, separated from the three longitudinal naves. The walls of these naves have blind arches at their top, and in one of them, the central arch, was the platform were the Caliph stood. Unlike what was established in the protocol of oriental caliphates, the Caliph from Córdoba was visibly present during the ceremonies, without covering himself after a veil.
This hall was called "Rich Hall" because of the spectacular nature of its decoration. In this sense, we must highlight two characteristics. The first one is the final establishment of the features of the caliphal horseshoe arch in Medina Azahara: trasdos elevated over the intrados, cutting of the voussoirs in the line of impost and the development of the related decoration, where the alfiz, or casing of the arch, stands out. Secondly, the use of a new technique: the decoration was carved on a stone different to the one used in the constructive wall coverings, covering all the surface. In turn, the composition of the decoration followed a well designed plan, which could be interpreted in a cosmological way (symbolization of the universe): in the lower part, we can highlight the big boards flanking the alcoves, real or pretended, whose theme is the tree of life; in the middle part, the horseshoe arches with their related decoration; and in the higher part, a continuous frieze in touch with the wooden ceiling, whose starred motifs represented the firmament.
On the eastern side of the building, a series of rooms were built connected to the Rich Hall, which were paved with white marble, and leading to a small bathroom. The so-called "Courtyard of the Sink" was part of the rooms leading to the bathroom. In these rooms, the caliph spent a great deal of his daily life and leisure time.
Finally, we should talk about the so-called "High Garden", which extended towards the end of the Rich Hall and culminated the spectacular nature of the ensemble. This garden was organized in flower beds, demarcated by both paths on the perimeter and middle, and in its axial axis a building was erected, the central pavilion, surrounded by four pools. These flower beds were watered through a system of ditches.
If you are wondering what to visit in Córdoba, a good option would be the archaeological site of Medina Azahara choosing one of our guided tours. We will explain there a special chapter dedicated to the Rich Hall. Choosing to do high quality sightseeing is choosing ArtenCórdoba.
Text: Jesús Pijuán.