In the highest part of the Fortress, a building has been identified as the private residence of Caliph Abd al-Rahman III –the Royal House (Dar al-Mulk), south oriented, like the basilical rooms already mentioned ("Higher Basilical Building", "Rich Hall", etc.). From it, the caliph could admire the rest of the complex of the palatial city of Medina Azahara, the Guadalquivir valley and the countryside of Córdoba, in all its splendor, without any obstacles and a far distance. Therefore, the building belongs to an early date and it could have been part of the original design of the fortress, commissioned by the first Umayyad caliph of Córdoba and led by his son and successor, al-Hakam II.
The house was organized over a platform cut in the rock where they arranged a front terrace –not preserved nowadays– and three parallel bays of rooms extended on the wide part, with bedrooms on both sides and decorated with Arabesques. On the eastern part of this residential unit, a small bathroom could have been located. The Royal House, like other buildings of the fortress, was not attached to the solid stone wall of the higher platform, but it was separated from it through a long service corridor crossing the complex.
This house is one of the places where we can best appreciate the later alterations the original building plan of Medina Azahara suffered. These transformations consisted in removing the bathroom and building new rooms, and they were carried out under the orders of Caliph Al-Hakam II (in the year 972) with the aim of adapting the building as a place where the prince, Hisham II, received his training in preparation for governing.
Apart from the preeminence over the rest of the fortress due to its higher location, other outstanding features of the Dar al-Mulk are its plentiful stone decoration and the use, in the pavement of the rooms –consisting of clay tiles–, of a decoration based on incrustations of limestone, forming different geometrical motifs organized in friezes which surround the floor of those rooms.
Nowadays, we cannot have a complete image of the spectacular nature of this building, south oriented, as its exterior façade is not preserved and its walls suffered pillaging. However, it is known that this residential unit was flanked by two big rectangular sections of stairways. We still preserve the remains of the beginning of one of them and the stairwell in the rocky part of the mountain where the second one was located. These stairways, astonishingly long (more than 10 metres high), were used to connect the Caliph’s house to the buildings located in the lower terrace. Nevertheless, we can claim that the Royal House was, until the later construction of the "Rich Hall", the space with the greatest political and religious symbolism in Medina Azahara.
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. Unfortunately, the Royal House cannot be visited at the moment, as there are restoration works being carried out. Choosing to do high quality sightseeing is choosing ArtenCórdoba.
Text: Jesús Pijuán.