The Islamic Capitals of al-Andalus: Cordoba – Seville – Granada

Al-Andalus is a term that the Muslims used to refer to the territory that they conquered and ruled in the Iberian Peninsula. Obviously, this territory changed over time under the pressure of the Reconquista (The Reconquest Battles), until –by the XIII century- it was limited only to the Kingdom of Granada, the Last Kingdom.

The Islamic rule in al-Andalus spanned some eight centuries (711 – 1492), and left a lasting legacy in science and humanities, in art and culture, and obviously, in the memory of stone. From the splendor of the Mezquita (Great Mosque) of Cordoba (the jewel of the Umayyad architecture) to the spectacular palaces and gardens of the Alhambra (the Nasrid art at its best), I was fortunate enough to live and study in Andalusia for a year, visiting every single monument from the al-Andalus era and traveling extensively to visit one site after another.

In this post, I will not be talking about XI century taifa capitals like Zaragoza, Toledo or Denia. Also, another post will be dedicated solely to the Alhambra. Here I focus only on the three major Islamic capitals in al-Andalus:

I. Cordoba

Capital of the Umayyad Emirate and Caliphate (756 – 1030).
The city that gave birth to Averroes (Ibn Rushd), Maimonides (Ibn Maymoun), Ibn Zaydun, Ibn Hazm and many other great figures. In the X century, it had the world’s second largest library in the whole world (after Baghdad), had hundreds of public hamams and mosques, tens of hospitals, and had its streets paved, lit and guarded at night. A century earlier, Ziryab had founded its conservatoire, the first in Europe.

II. Seville
Capital of the Almohads (1170 – 1232).
The hometown of Ibn Sahl, Avenzoar (Ibn Zuhr), Ibn al-Awwam and others. It was the seat of a strong taifa led by the poet-king Ibn Abbada, whose court was the closest thing to a cultural salon. Later on under the Almohad rule (a Berber dynasty), it flourished as the capital of a strong dynasty that adorned the city with splendid monuments. It fell to Fernando III in 1248, twelve years after he had conquered Cordoba.

III. Granada

Capital of the Nasrids (1232 – 1492).
The province of Ibn al-Khatib, Ibn Tufail, Ibn Zamraq, Abu Hayyan, etc. The city preserves tens of Islamic monuments, mostly from the Zirid Taifa era and the Nasrid era, and is famous world wide for the Alhambra and the gardens of the Generalife. The Albaycín neighbourhood is a living testament of the Islamic urban fabric and is dotted with houses and palaces that date from the Andalusi times. All 27 minarets of the mosques of Albaycín are now church towers, with some of them conserving the Andalusi structure and decorations in part or in full (like the Minaret of San Jose, the Minaret-Tower of San Juan de los Reyes and the Minaret-Tower of Santa Ana).

I am sharing photos of mine that cover the entire spectrum of Andalusi Art (mainly architecture) in these three cities:
Umayyad Art, 756 – 1030 (e.g. Medina Azahra and the minaret of San Juan in Cordoba);
Taifa Art, XI century (e.g. Hammam al-Jawza and the Gate of Elvira in Granada);
Almoravid & Almohad Art, 1090 – 1236 (e.g. The Giralda & the Gold Tower, Seville);
Nasrid Art, 1232 – 1492 (e.g. Corral del Carbon and Vase of the Gazelles);
Mudejar Art, XII – XVI century (e.g. Alcázar of Seville).

All photos are copyrighted.

6 thoughts on “The Islamic Capitals of al-Andalus: Cordoba – Seville – Granada

  1. PS. A friend asked me about the Alcázar of Seville. It is NOT an Islamic monument, but the style -in many parts- is Islamic (Mudejar), and it is documented that Muslim architects and artesans were used to build many parts of it (like the Mudejar Palace, commissioned by Pedro I in the XIV century).
    This is why many halls of the Alcázar feature typical elements of the Andalusi art, like the use of the ‘sebka’ motif and the poly-lobed arches.

  2. Reblogged this on The Templar Knight and commented:
    Long time followers of this blog might recall my lovely photos of Cordoba when I wrote about the extent of Islamic rule in Europe a thousand years ago. Being half-Portuguese (my mother is from Porto) I’ve always been fascinated by the legacy left behind by the so-called “Moors” in what is now Spain and Portugal. So this blog instantly caught my attention as it reminded us that at the time of the first crusades and foundation of the Templars, the southern part of the Iberian peninsula was still very much an Islamic realm – Al-Andalus. And as this blogger rightly points out..Cordoba, Seville and Granada were jewels in the crown of the caliphate. It should also be remembered that the crusades were not just fought in the Middle East – but also in Al-Andalus and the Baltic region – which were both seen as targets for conversion by the papacy.

    • Thank you for your interest in my post! I will be posting another message on the capitals and centres of the taifa kingdoms in al-Andalus (XI century)…cities like Zaragoza, Tortosa, Toledo, etc.

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