Emirate of Córdoba

The Emirate of Córdoba (Arabic: إمارة قرطبة, Imārat Qurṭubah) was a medieval Islamic kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula. Its founding in the mid-eighth century would mark the beginning of seven hundred years of Muslim rule in what is now Spain and Portugal.

Emirate of Córdoba
إمارة قرطبة (Arabic)
Imārat Qurṭubah
Emirate of Córdoba in 929 (green)
Emirate of Córdoba in 929 (green)
Common languagesAndalusian Arabic, Berber, Mozarabic, Medieval Hebrew
Sunni Islam, Judaism, Roman Catholicism
GovernmentIslamic absolute Monarchy
• Abd al-Rahman I proclaimed Emir of Córdoba
15 May 756
• Abd al-Rahman III proclaimed Caliph of Córdoba[1]
16 January 929
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Umayyad Caliphate
Caliphate of Córdoba

The territories of the Emirate, located in what the Arabs called Al-Andalus, had formed part of the Umayyad Caliphate since the early eighth century. After the caliphate was overthrown by the Abbasids in 750, the Umayyad prince Abd ar-Rahman I fled the former capital of Damascus and established an independent emirate in Iberia in 756. The provincial capital of Córdoba (Arabic: قرطبة Qurṭuba) was made the capital, and within decades grew into one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the world. After initially recognizing the legitimacy of the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, in 929 Emir Abd al-Rahman III declared the caliphate of Córdoba, with himself as caliph.


Roderic was a Visigothic king who ruled Hispania from 710-712 AD, which was later referred to by the Arabs as "Al-Andalus". The Umayyad Caliphate had previously conducted small raids on the southern tip of Spain against the Visigoths, but full scale conquest did not begin until April of 711, when an army led by Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed the narrow channel that separated southern Hispania from North Africa; the area is today known as Gibraltar, from the Arabic Jabal Ṭāriq (جبل طارق), meaning "mountain of Ṭāriq".

After crossing into Hispania, Tariq's troops clashed with Roderic's small army at the banks of the Wadi-Lakku river. Visigothic forces were defeated and Roderic was killed, leaving an open path into Hispania, and by extension western Europe, for the Umayyad Caliphate to conquer. After the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in 711–718, the Iberian Peninsula was established as a province under the Umayyad Caliphate. The rulers of this province established their capital in Córdoba and received from the Umayyad Caliphate the title of wali or emir.[2]

In 756, Abd al-Rahman I, a prince of the deposed Umayyad royal family, refused to recognize the authority of the Abbasid Caliphate and became an independent emir of Córdoba. He had been on the run for six years after the Umayyads had lost the position of caliph in Damascus in 750 to the Abbasids. Intent on regaining a position of power, he defeated the existing Muslim rulers of the area who had defied Umayyad rule and united various local fiefdoms into an emirate.[3] However, this first unification of al-Andalus under Abd al-Rahman still took more than twenty-five years to complete (Toledo, Zaragoza, Pamplona, Barcelona).

For the next century and a half, his descendants continued as emirs of Córdoba, with nominal control over the rest of al-Andalus and sometimes even parts of western Maghreb, but with real control always in question, particularly over the marches along the Christian border, their power vacillating depending on the competence of the individual emir. For example, the power of emir Abdullah ibn Muhammad al-Umawi (c. 900) did not extend beyond Córdoba itself.

Upon the ascent to the throne of Abd al-Rahman III, who came to power in 912, the political decline of the emirate was obvious. Abd al-Rahman III rapidly restored Umayyad power throughout al-Andalus and extended it into western North Africa as well. In 929, to impose his authority and end the riots and conflicts that ravaged the Iberian Peninsula, he proclaimed himself caliph of Córdoba, elevating the emirate to a position of prestige not only in comparison to the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad but also the Shiʿite Fatimid caliph in Tunis, with whom he was competing for control of North Africa. The Emirate of Cordoba gradually lost power and in 1492 Granada was taken by the Christians and Muslim influence dissolved.[4]


Al-Andalus was subject to eastern cultural influences, with Abd ar-Rahman I likely having an interest in Syrian culture.[5] During the reign of Abd al-Rahman II the culture of Baghdad became fashionable, and his reign is considered a high point of culture and patronage during the Emirate period.[5][6]: 89–99  The emir sent emissaries to the Abbasid and Byzantine courts to bring back books on subjects such as Islamic religious scholarship, Arabic grammar, poetry, astrology, medicine, and other sciences.[6]: 94  Abbas ibn Firnas was among the most notable poets and polymaths of this period who brought back technical and scientific knowledge back with him from the east.[6]: 94–95  In high society, both men and women were expected to learn adab, a kind of etiquette common to al-Andalus and other Islamic societies at the time. Women, such as royal concubines, were sometimes sent abroad to be trained in adab and other forms of culture.[6]: 89–95  The musician Ziryab was a "major trendsetter of his time" creating trends in fashion, hairstyles, and hygiene. His students took these trends with them throughout Europe and North Africa.[7] He also founded an academy for arts, music, and fashion which lasted for several generations.[6]: 97  Abd ar-Rahman II also established a workshop that produced official embroidered textiles known as tiraz, a custom that also existed in the east.[5][6]: 91 


The columns and double-tiered arches in the oldest section of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain, founded in 785

Upon rising to power, Abd ar-Rahman I initially resided in several palace-villas on the outskirts of Cordoba, most notably one called ar-Ruṣāfa.[8] Ar-Ruṣāfa may have originally been a Roman villa or a Roman-Visigothic estate which was taken over and adapted by a Berber chieftain named Razin al-Burnusi who accompanied the original Muslim invasion by Tariq ibn Ziyad earlier that century.[9] After a failed plot against him in 784, Abd ar-Rahman I moved his residence definitively to the site of the Alcázar in the city.[8] He and his successors built and continuously developed the Alcázar into the official royal residence and seat of power in Al-Andalus.[8] Abd ar-Rahman II was responsible for improving the water supply for both the city and the palace gardens.[10] He may have also built the Albolafia and other norias (waterwheels) along the Guadalquivir River.[11] (Although the Albolafia is also attributed by historians to either the 10th century[12] or to the 12th century under the Almoravids.[13])

In 785 Abd ar-Rahman I founded the Great Mosque of Cordoba, one of the most important monuments of the architecture of the western Islamic world. The mosque was notable for its vast hypostyle hall composed of rows of columns connected by double tiers of arches (including horseshoe arches on the lower tier) composed of alternating red brick and light-colored stone. The mosque was subsequently expanded by Abd ar-Rahman II in 836, who preserved the original design while extending its dimensions. The mosque was again embellished with new features by his successors Muhammad, Al-Mundhir, and Abdallah. One of the western gates of the mosque, known as Bab al-Wuzara' (today known as Puerta de San Esteban), dates from this period and is often noted as an important prototype of later Moorish architectural forms and motifs.[14][15][16][17]

The palaces and the Great Mosque in Cordoba were linked via a high covered passage (sabbat) which was raised over the street between them, allowing the caliph direct access to the maqsurah area of the mosque via a corridor behind the qibla wall. The first sabbat was built by the Umayyad emir Abdallah (reigned 888-912) for security reasons and was later replaced by al-Hakam II when the latter expanded the mosque.[15]: 70 [18][19][20]: 21 

The original Great Mosque of Seville[a] was either built or enlarged by Abd ar-Rahman II circa 830. It is now occupied by the Collegiate Church of the Divine Savior (Iglesia Colegial del Salvador), which preserves only minor remains of the mosque.[15] In Mérida, following a violent revolt, Abd ar-Rahman II also built a fortress, now known Alcazaba of Mérida, which was later re-used by the Knights of Santiago and remains standing today.[15]

List of RulersEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Not to be confused with the later Almohad Great Mosque (12th century) which was subsequently converted into the Seville Cathedral.


  1. ^ Azizur Rahman, Syed (2001). The Story of Islamic Spain. Goodword Books. p. 129. ISBN 978-81-87570-57-8. [Emir Abdullah died on] 16 Oct., 912 after 26 years of inglorious rule leaving his fragmented and bankrupt kingdom to his grandson ‘Abd ar-Rahman. The following day, the new sultan received the oath of allegiance at a ceremony held in the "Perfect salon" (al-majils al-kamil) of the Alcazar.
  2. ^ Catlos (2018). Kingdoms of Faith. C. Hurst & Co. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-78738-003-5.
  3. ^ Barton, 37.
  4. ^ Bouchard, Constance Brittain, Chief Consultant. (Distinguished Professor of Medieval History, University of Akron) “Knights in History and Legend” Firefly Books Ltd.. 2009. ISBN 978-1-55407-480-8. Page 202
  5. ^ a b c M. Bloom, Jonathan; S. Blair, Sheila, eds. (2009). "Córdoba". The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195309911.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Catlos, Brian A. (2018). Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 9780465055876.
  7. ^ 1001 inventions & awesome facts from Muslim civilization. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. 2012. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-4263-1258-8.
  8. ^ a b c Marçais, Georges (1954). L'architecture musulmane d'Occident. Paris: Arts et métiers graphiques. pp. 153–154.
  9. ^ Forcada, Miquel (2019). "The garden in Umayyad society in al-Andalus". Early Medieval Europe. 27 (3): 349–373. doi:10.1111/emed.12347. S2CID 202373296.
  10. ^ M. Bloom, Jonathan; S. Blair, Sheila, eds. (2009). "Córdoba". The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195309911.
  11. ^ Headworth, H. G. (2004). "Early Arab Water Technology in Southern Spain". Water and Environment Journal. 18 (3): 161–165. doi:10.1111/j.1747-6593.2004.tb00519.x.
  12. ^ Miranda, Adriana de (2007). Water Architecture in the Lands of Syria: The Water-wheels. L'Erma di Bretschneider. p. 55. ISBN 9788882654337.
  13. ^ "Albolafia (2 o 2) - Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs | Virtual Tour". alcazardelosreyescristianos.cordoba.es. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
  14. ^ Marçais, Georges (1954). L'architecture musulmane d'Occident. Paris: Arts et métiers graphiques. pp. 134–182.
  15. ^ a b c d Barrucand, Marianne; Bednorz, Achim (1992). Moorish architecture in Andalusia. Taschen. pp. 39–49. ISBN 3822876348.
  16. ^ Dodds, Jerrilynn D. (1992). "The Great Mosque of Córdoba". In Dodds, Jerrilynn D. (ed.). Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 11–26. ISBN 0870996371.
  17. ^ Bloom, Jonathan M. (2020). Architecture of the Islamic West: North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, 700–1800. Yale University Press. pp. 17–21. ISBN 9780300218701.
  18. ^ Fatima (7 October 2014). "El sabat de la Mezquita". Arte en Córdoba (in European Spanish). Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  19. ^ "The andalusi Alcazar". ArqueoCordoba. Retrieved 2020-10-08.
  20. ^ Arnold, Felix (2017). Islamic Palace Architecture in the Western Mediterranean: A History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190624552.