The Ornament of the World

by María Rosa Menocal
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The Gardens of Memory Summary

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Last Updated on April 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381

Menocal wonders what invading armies must have thought of Madinat al-Zahra, complete with a zoo and hundreds of statues and pools, including a pool of quicksilver, when they invaded in 1009. For the invading Berbers, the destruction of this city was fueled by resentment against the Umayyads.

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Madinat al-Zahra was built in 936 by Abd al-Rahman III as a means to impress the entire world when he declared himself caliph. The city palace became an obsession of the caliph, and he began to turn his attention away from the political capital of Cordoba. In 961, it was passed down to his son, Al-Hakam, who finished building Madinat al-Zahra and expanded the Great Mosque of Cordoba. In addition to an unusually tall minaret that Abd al-Rahman had added during his reign, Al-Hakam added ornate arches and columns to the mosque. He further created a royal space, separate from the common area, which conspicuously distanced himself from his subjects and suggested that he was not seen as equal in the eyes of God. Menocal proposes that this narcissism may have even led to protests within Cordoba.

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Latest answer posted May 9, 2020, 4:08 pm (UTC)

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When Al-Hakam died fifteen years into his reign, he left only a son of eleven. A tyrannical and fundamentalist chamberlain, Ibn Abi Amir (al-Mansur), took control of the city and led many bloody military campaigns. This began the fall of the Umayyad Andalusia that had been thriving for 250 years. Al-Mansur hired foreign Berber mercenaries to police the city and help his campaigns against Christian territories to the north. When he died, he left two sons from different wives, both of whom claimed to be his rightful successor. The first succeeded al-Mansur but died six years into his reign, so the second, Sanchuelo, took over and “triggered the final chaos” that ended Umayyad rule. Sanchuelo, like his father, ruled from behind the scenes with a caliphate figurehead in place. Sanchuelo forced this caliphate to proclaim that he, Sanchuelo, was the true heir of the Umayyad dynasty, which angered many Cordobans who still held allegiance to the rightful bloodline. In 1009, one army chased after Sanchuelo to kill him, but another marched on Madinat al-Zahra to find the cowardly king who would give away his birthright. A civil war ensued, sometimes referred to as the Berber War, and in 1013, Cordoba itself was sacked.

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