Rich Hall (Medina Azahara)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Rich Hall (Spanish: Salón Rico) of Medina Azahara (مدينة الزهراء), was the place chosen for the great receptions of Caliph Abderramán III. It was the most ornate and impressive structure in Medina Azahara, the fortified palace-city built by Abd-ar-Rahman III. This hall was called "Rich Hall" because of the spectacular nature of its decoration.


The reception hall of Abd al-Rahman III and the great garden next to it are the most significant spaces preserved from Medina Azahara. Both the hall and the garden were conceived individually, to emphasize the symbolism of the political and religious power of the Caliph and glorify his figure. In the "Rich Hall", both political receptions and main annual religious festivals were celebrated –sacrifices and the breaking of the fast– until the end of the mandate of al-Hakam II in the year 976 CE.


circa 960 CE

Abd al-Rahman III’s Hall was built between the years 953-957, as can be read on the epigraphic inscriptions on the bases and pilasters. Its floor plan follows a basilical scheme (inspect), with a main centre, integrated by two sets of horseshoe arches, separated from the three longitudinal naves. The walls of these naves have blind arches at their top, and in one of them, the central arch, was the platform were the Caliph stood.

circa 960 CE

Unlike what was established in the protocol of oriental caliphates, the Caliph from Córdoba was visibly present during the ceremonies, without covering himself behind a veil. During the receptions, the Caliph stayed in the central wall of the hall and, on both sides, depending on his hierarchical relevance, the higher dignitaries and officials of the administration.

circa 960 CE

On the eastern side of the building, a series of rooms were built connected to the Rich Hall, which were paved with white marble, and leading to a small bathroom. The so-called "Courtyard of the Sink" was part of the rooms leading to the bathroom. In these rooms, the caliph spent a great deal of his daily life and leisure time.

circa 960 CE

Two features that stand out are; the first one is the final establishment of the features of the caliphal horseshoe arch in Medina Azahara: trasdos elevated over the intrados, cutting of the voussoirs in the line of impost and the development of the related decoration, where the alfiz, or casing of the arch, stands out. Secondly, the use of a new technique: the decoration was carved on a stone different to the one used in the constructive wall coverings, covering all the surface.

circa 960 CE

In turn, the composition of the decoration followed a well designed plan, which could be interpreted in a cosmological way (symbolization of the universe): in the lower part, we can highlight the big boards flanking the alcoves, real or pretended, whose theme is the tree of life; in the middle part, the horseshoe arches with their related decoration; and in the higher part, a continuous frieze in touch with the wooden ceiling, whose starred motifs represented the firmament.

circa 960 CE

The so-called "High Garden", which extended towards the end of the Rich Hall and culminated the spectacular nature of the ensemble. This garden was organized in flower beds, demarcated by both paths on the perimeter and middle, and in its axial axis a building was erected, the central pavilion, surrounded by four pools. These flower beds were watered through a system of ditches.

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