First came the Berbers with their burning torches and set fire to the palatial city in 1010. Then, the wooden roofs creaked in the heat and the tiles were the first to fall; the walls were left unprotected and also collapsed. Later the looters appeared to take away the enormous and precious stones of calco-arenita and the valuables that could remain among the remains. One thousand eight years later, experts from the German Archaeological Institute, the Junta de Andalucía and the Autonomous University of Madrid studied the spectacular destruction of the Plaza de Armas in the Caliph's palace. Right there, adjacent, as EL PAÍS is today, they discovered a huge administrative building with two floors that could be the headquarters of the police Medina Azahara, the best-preserved Arab palace in the X century, which has been a World Heritage Site since last July.
The Umayyad caliph Abderramán III ordered to build Medina Azahara (the bright city or the flower) in the first third of the tenth century about eight kilometers from Cordoba as a symbol of its power. Its design, in broad strokes, is a horizontal rectangle (of more than 110 hectares) in whose upper part would be the palatial city, in its center the royal gardens and on the sides the areas destined for the population. It was completely destroyed a century after its foundation because of civil wars and during the Middle Ages it was sacked to build other constructions, both Arab and Christian. Having been built with an easily carved stone, the huge blocks were highly prized by the builders as they could be transformed into Romanesque or Gothic pillars.
It was not until the reign of Alfonso XIII when the ruins began to be studied. After the Spanish Civil War, the excavations that, until now, have unearthed approximately 10% of this deposit, began in depth.
"There is work for our children, our grandchildren and their children," explains Alberto Canto, professor in the Department of Prehistory and Archeology at the Autonomous University of Madrid and director of Field Excavation. Canto is one of the ten members of the Hispano-German team that has undertaken the first major archaeological raid east of the palace.
The works, with a budget of 200,000 euros, began in 2017 and looked for the vanished plaza de armas (10,000 square meters) adjacent to the palatial complex. The experts had five years to complete their investigation. But last June they hit the east of the esplanade with a structure of about 1,500 square meters of floor, with two floors and three naves. It was, almost certainly, an administrative building of the palatial complex and the first hypotheses suggest that it could be the seat of the Caliph's police "or the offices of the Lord of the Medina," they say. "It's an area that had never been excavated. So far we have found the walls, the pillars of a portico and various construction elements, such as roof tiles, the first to fall after the destruction of the building, "Canto adds.
The specialists confirm that it is an administrative building because it lacks rooms and latrines. On the other hand, it has a reception area and three naves. Possibly the structure was porticoed. In fact, and to the naked eye, the slabs, the foundations of the walls and even fragments covered with walls are easily visible. The slabs are the same as those of other administrative buildings of the palace.
The project, directed by Felix Arnold, of the German Archaeological Institute, and Alberto Montejo, specialist of the Junta de Andalucía, will be completed in 2023, one year later than expected due to the magnitude of the deposit.
When it is finished, the specialists want the parade ground to become "the new entrance for the visitors of Medina Azahara (now it is done by crossing or accessing the part of the palace)". "The square would be a good element of distribution of the visitors and would recover, in a certain way, its original mission: to articulate the transit between the palace and the administrative zone," Canto points out. As soon as he entered, and to his left, the police or the officials of the caliph would be watching them so that they would not commit any outrage. It is a World Heritage Site.