The time of the Caliphs
In our historic introduction to Medina Azahara, to which we include a link, we already mentioned the importance and reasons for adopting the title of caliph by Abd al-Rahman III, and we also outlined a summary of the reign of his successors at an internal level (political, socioeconomic and cultural). In order to avoid repetition, we will highlight other details.
Abd al-Rahman III (912 / 929-961) was born in the year 891, and soon became an orphan, after his father was killed by his uncle that same year. That is why he was raised by his mother, Muzra (a slave of Basque origin), and his grandmother Occa, daughter of the king of Navarra Fortún Garcés. But it was his grandfather, Emir Abd Allah who was responsible for the strictness of his training and the preparation for the post he had to perform. His Hispanic ancestry on his mother side did not prevent his energy when submitting internal problems (among which we should mention the riot Omar Ibn Hafsun) or his numerous and victorious campaigns against the Christians. Thanks to these campaigns –despite the defeats in Valdejunquera (920) and Simancas (939)– the first caliph of Córdoba was awarded the nickname of An Nasir Li-Din Allah, which means "he who religiously fights for the religion of Allah".
Taking advantage of the internal difficulties the Christian kingdoms were going through in the peninsula, the military and political power of the Umayyad Caliphate were strengthened beyond the borders of the peninsula. It is known that the Abbasid caliphate of Bagdad had tense relationships with the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt. For this reason, the Caliph wanted to make sure his hegemony over them was clear with his policy of expansion in the north of Africa –occupation of Melilla (927), Ceuta (932) and Tangier (951). Secondly, his foreign action stands out because of the fluent diplomatic relationships with Provence, Italy, with the German Empire of Otto I –who sent an embassy to Córdoba in the year 936– and with the Byzantine Empire.
When Abd al-Rahman III died, he was succeeded by his 46-year-old son Al-Hakam II (961-976). We know that he was named his father’s successor when he was only 8 after the premature death of his brother, and that he was very intelligent and had great qualities to study. When he reached the throne, he already had a great deal of government experience which was really helpful. He was a very religious man, especially after suffering an hemiplegic stroke in 974.
Thanks to his tendency to patronage, he became the most important centre of attention for the culture of the time. He had a fantastic library whose volumes increased considerably during his reign. It is said that many people from Córdoba travelled to the most remote places in the world in order to acquire manuscripts for his library, which had more than 400,000 volumes. True or not, the new Andalusian sovereign really cared for the expansion of the Mosque of Córdoba.
Al-Hakam II adopted the nickname of Al-Mutansir Bi-Llah ("he who seeks the victorious help of Allah") and he was helped by numerous collaborators. The first of them was Galib, a liberated slave who became military chief. The second one was Chaffar al-Mushafi, chief of the central administration whose father had been Al-Hakam II’s preceptor. This enabled them to establish a sincere friendship with the governing family. The third of them was the Basque concubine Shub, who would become mother of the future Caliph Hisham II.
Despite the mentioned nickname, Al-Hakam II only fought against the Christian kingdoms when he considered necessary. His performance was mainly successfully centred in the role of an arbitrator of the internal arguments of the different kingdoms. However, at the end of his reign, he achieved the important victory in San Esteban de Gormaz (975).
Al-Hakam II was succeeded by his son Hisham II (976-1013), but, being underage, his power was exercised by Almanzor (976-1002), who established a personal dictatorship until his death, and it was continued by his sons. In spite of the significant military victories of this character –nicknamed "the scourge of the Christians" by Islamic sources and Al-Mansur Bi-Llah ("the victorious by Allah")– after his death the caliphate started a clear decline and soon afterwards, a civil war put an end to this political construction.
Almanzor is known for carrying out the last extension of the Mosque, as well as, for example, taking the golden bells of the Cathedral after the military campagin (razzia) against Santiago de Compostela, in order to reuse that material in the extension works.
If you are wondering what to visit in Córdoba, the best option would be the Mosque-Cathedral, choosing one of our guided tours. This way, you will learn all you need to know about the Umayyad Caliphate of Al-Andalus. Choosing to do a high quality sightseeing is choosing ArtenCórdoba.
Text: Jesús Pijuán.