Medina Azahara is already a World Heritage Site

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Publication date: 2018-07-02

The archaeological site of Medina Azahara achieves the UNESCO recognition at the summit held in Manana (Bahrain)

The Caliphate City of Medina Azahara has just been declared World Heritage Site. The Steering Committee of UNESCO World Heritage, which met this weekend in Bahrain, has approved the application as a candidate of the archaeological site, among a list of 29 proposals received from worldwide. With this recognition, Cordoba becomes the only city in the world with four designations of protection by UNESCO: the Mosque-Cathedral the historic quarter, Festival of the Courtyards and the Caliphate city.

The decision, notified around 11:30 am, was preceded by the declarations of the ICOMOS, which valued of the site as, “being a new city planned and built as a state, it is an exceptional display of the cultural and architectural civilisation of the Umayyad, and in general, of the western Islamic civilisation of Al-Andalus”.

During this weekend, Cordoba has been represented in Bahrain by an Andalusian delegation comprised of the city's mayoress, Isabel Ambrosio; the minister of the Regional Government of Andalusia, Miguel Ángel Vázquez; the president of the Cordoba Provincial Council, Antonio Ruiz; and the delegate of the Regional Government of Cordoba, Esther Ruiz.

The four representatives arrived at Manama with "good feelings" as to obtaining the distinction and highlighted all "the efforts made", to which only "the cherry on top" was missing. “The candidature's presentation was done with extreme rigour and with absolute dedication. "These are our best credentials so that Medina Azahara may be declared World Heritage City", Ambrosio commented on Saturday morning.

This UNESCO title arrives 107 years after the Caliphate City was excavated for the first time, which still has about 90% hidden underground.

One recognition, ten years of work

This recognition arrives after almost ten years of the work, during which the existence of the illegal plots has delayed the entire presentation process. During the month of July 2009, the then minister of Culture of the Regional Government of Andalusia, Rosa Torres, announced that the regional government would present the proposal to the Council of Spain's Historic Heritage. Back then, furthermore, the Cordoba Town Hall was already drafting the project to transform its courtyards into Intangible Heritage of Humanity, a designation obtained in 2012.

In that announcement, Torres highlighted the problematic issue of the illegal plots, as the absolute protection required by the archaeological site could not be guaranteed.

It was in November of 2014 when the Council of Spain's Historic Heritage decided to include it in the Indicative List of World Heritage. This previous step was the final stone atop the victory we celebrate now, but which at that time was a wary step, given that in 2002, the palace area was also part of this list but was omitted in the decision of the Government, who commissioned the autonomous regions to present a proposal.

Finally, the candidacy of Medina Azahara entered the final stages last May, when the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) issued a positive evaluation in this regard. We must bear in mind that this organisation visited the site during the month of September for subsequent review.

In this document, the ICOMOS implemented an analysis that included several recommendations for the purpose of boosting the site even more. The two criteria valued by the ICOMOS were that, being the Medina Azahara “a new city planned and built as a state, it is an exceptional display of the cultural and architectural civilisation of the Umayyad, and in general, of the western Islamic civilisation of Al-Andalus”. Therefore, it was considered “an excellent example of the combination of urban planning, architectural and landscape elements”, as well as “technology, architecture, decoration and adaptation of the landscape, which illustrates the significance of the 10th century period, when the Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba was proclaimed in the Islamic west”.

In this sense, the institution even compared it with Beni Hammad Fort, in Algeria - World Heritage in 1980 -, although “Medina Azahara continues to be an exception, reinforced by its authenticity and integrity”. In fact, as the only caliphate capital founded by the Umayyad dynasty, ICOMOS pointed out that Medina Azahara distinguishes itself in testifying the culture and knowledge of Islamic civilisation that arrived to Europe”.

Far from what may be believed, the fact that it has remained hidden for so many years, according to ICOMOS, has contributed to its conservation and that the site has neither been “rebuilt nor altered”, and that, first by the State and then by the Regional Government of Andalusia, the caliphate city has been guaranteed “the highest level of protection”.

With the Medina Azahara, Andalusia counts with 13 declarations, of which nine are World Heritage; The Great Mosque of Cordoba; the Alhambra and Generalife in Granada; Cathedral, the Alcázar and Archive of the Indies in Seville; the Doñana National Park; the Albaycín of Granada; the Historic Quarter of Córdoba; the Cave Painting of the Mediterranean of the Iberian Peninsula; the Renaissance Monumental Sites in Úbeda and Baeza (Jaén); and the Dólmenes de Antequera Site (Málaga). To these we must add another three Intangible Cultural Heritage, which are flamenco, the revitalisation of traditional knowledge of traditional limestone in Morón de la Frontera and the Festival of the Courtyards in Cordoba.

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