The Aljama of Madinat al-Zahra

by | Nov 16, 2022 | Blog

On the terrace located in the east of the “High Garden” of Medina Azahara, the Aljama Mosque was built, which, due to its location (next to the palace but outside it) allowed to share the use of the building among the population of the city and the inhabitants of the fortress. The date when the works finished varies: some written sources suggest the year 941, whereas the remains of a main commemorative plaque date it back to the year 944 or 945. There are barely any remains of the building, which suffered the pillaging of materials more severely. Well oriented towards Mecca (southeast), the floor of the Mosque is rectangular, and three of its main elements (courtyard, prayer hall and minaret) follow the “classical” scheme of other mosques in the Islamic West. The ablutions courtyard (sahn) has galleries covered on three of its sides, but not in the southest, occupied by the façade of the prayer hall, and it was paved with violet limestone tiles.

The prayer hall has a basilical floor, with five naves perpendicular to the wall of the qibla, which stands out because it corrected the diversions in the Aljama Mosque of Córdoba. These naves are separated by arcades consisting of eight horseshoe arches. The sandy floor covering the prayer hall (haram) was covered by straw mats, except in the macsura –elevated platform from where Caliph or Iman led the prayer–, which is paved with clay tiles. As for the mihrab, deep alcove facing the exterior, centre of every Mosque and where the richest and most attractive decoration is concentrated, there are barely any remains left that suggest its shape and decorative motifs.

From the “Rich Hall“, the Caliph could enter the prayer hall through a covered passageway (sabat) attached to the easter side of the “High Garden“. The gradient of the street was solved with a three-arched bridge, (which is preserved except for its base), built at the end of the mandate of Abderraman III or the beginning of that of his son Alhaken II.

On the northwestern side, next to the main door, the minaret is erected, a square tower in the exterior and octagonal inside, where there was a stairway climbing the terrace from where the muezzin summoned the believers to prayer. Its location, in the inside of the courtyard and moved from the central axis to form a line between the entrance door and the mihrab, anticipates the Aljama Mosque of Córdoba.

In front of the main façade of the Aljama Mosque of Medina Azahara they erected a series of rooms that have been identified as a “House of the Alms” (Dar al-sadaka), due to its distribution and location.

With the Mosque, we finish the analysis of the main buildings and remains located in the eastern part of the fortress, which we have called the “public” section. From now on, we will start the analysis of the western part, the “private section”. However, this division by functionality does not apply to all cases, as we will see that the “Courtyard of the Pillars” has a public or official character.

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