Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis

Subject Categories

History | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


Islamic Iberia, Cordoba Caliphate, Cordoba


It has been noted how long it took for the Muslim presence in Iberia, starting in 711 BCE, to materialize into significant works of architecture. The continuous military campaigns, necessary to consolidate control of the Peninsula, were undertaken by a relatively small group of incoming Arab and Berber troops. This naturally limited the potential scope of construction to repairs of the Hispano-Roman infrastructure found in the conquered areas, mainly in the middle and the South of the Iberian Peninsula. The old walled city of Cordoba, locale of Roman and Visigoth rulers, served as the capital of the new emirate, with the reuse of its existing structures, bridge, walls, palaces, etc.

It would ultimately be the political stability and economic prosperity of tenth-century al-Andalus[1] that would allow Abd al-Rahman III to declare himself Caliph in 929 CE and be able to undertake original architectural projects that would epitomize the centralization of his power and the legitimacy of his rulership. The development of the Cordoba suburbs, where a firmament of munyas, or residential villas, was already being built for affluent patrons in the Guadalquivir valley, was the prelude to the creation of the royal palatial city of Madinat al-Zahra, a large multi-use complex sited at the foothills of the Sierra Morena that would, for a brief moment from its inception in 941 CE until its destruction by fundamentalist Almohad troops in 1009 CE, serve as a center of power, administration and advancement of culture for the Cordoba Caliphate.

The Umayyads brought their own Syrian traditions to Iberia. Yet the Muslim conquest of Iberia involved not only the Arabization of the local population, but also, the “Iberization” of the newcomers. Abd al-Rahman III had inherited the blond hair and blue eyes of his Christian mother. This physical fusion was symbolic of the population in al-Andalus: outwardly and culturally Arabic yet fundamentally more complex.

This study will focus on the architectural and site planning developments of Suburban Cordoba during the reigns of Abd al-Rahman III (756–929 CE) and his son, al-Hakam II (912–961 CE). It will address how the architecture and planning of their new buildings combined Umayyad Syrian tradition with Roman classical concepts and local Visigoth methods and materials, adapting them to the specific characteristics of the new land they conquered while also incorporating features of contemporary Persian and Abbasid ceremonial culture. The innovations included not only construction techniques and decorative styles, but more importantly, new concepts in the planning of the buildings and the relationship of their interior and exterior spaces, reflecting the evolving concepts of sovereignty and legitimacy of the Cordoba Caliphate and the unusual nature of its court.

[1] al-Andalus: Arabic name given to the geographical area of the Iberian Peninsula that came under Muslim control in the Middle Ages, from 711 CE to 1492 CE. The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages, edited by Robert E. Bjork. Oxford University Press, 2010.