Workshop 2

Workshop II

Enduring Monuments and Shifting Cultures in Cordoba and Granada

Location: Cordoba and Granada, 9-day meeting, 3-12 January 2019

The goal of this second workshop was to study the architectural fabric of two major Andalusi cities, Cordoba and Granada, and to engage with major arts foundations and centers whose mission, like ours, is to encourage collaborative work among scholars of the medieval period. We explored the culturally complex history of Muslim-Christian relations in Spain and the Mediterranean, and the relationship between nationalism and memory—how a nation like modern Spain frames its Islamic past—and the importance of architectural monuments in the making of cultural identity.


Concepts: the city as palimpsest, spolia, reading space by walking in it, conversions and changed meanings, and the innovative ways that medieval architectural fabric can be revealed by modern archaeologists and curators.

Program: In Cordoba we returned to the topic of medieval cities as they are known, mapped, and preserved today.

Day 1 begun in the seminar room and then shifted to exploratory mode, walking through the Umayyad city to see it as a historical palimpsest, from the Roman/Islamic bridge and stone city walls pierced by gates, to the Great Mosque/Cathedral, and the remains of the waterwheel along the river. The city reveals its layered history not only through archeological strata, as in the Roman vestiges excavated and on display in the basement of the Archaeological Museum, but also the presence of spolia, such as the marble Madinat al-Zahra capitals placed atop columns and embedded in the beveled street corners. An important topic for consideration was the framing of Cordoba’s historic district as a UNESCO World Heritage site (1984), and the ramifications of excluding Madinat al-Zahra from that precinct. 

Day 2 begun in the seminar room and then in the afternoon proceeded to the synagogue, the city walls and gates on the old city’s west side.

On Day 3 we went to the palace-city Madinat al-Zahra and to the nearby al-Rummaniya palace (recently excavated by a team from Deutsches Archäologisches Institut and the Conjunto Arqueológico de Madinat al-Zahra).


Concepts: the city as palimpsest, viewsheds and the meaning of vision, the inhabited medieval city (historic dwellings vs. dwelling in the past), institutions for the study and interpretation of the medieval past.

Venue: In the early evening we transfered by bus to Granada for the remainder of the workshop.

Program: We continued to alternate between seminar discussions and site visits, as in the earlier workshop meetings.

On Day 4 we convened in the morning as a seminar for discussion. In the early afternoon we walked to the newly restored Cuarto Real palace, contemporaneous with the older portions of the Alhambra.

On Day 5 we examined the Alhambra and Generalife palaces (including areas not open to the public).

On Day 6 we saw the newly restored Dar al-Horra palace of the Nasrid period (13th-15th century); the taifa-period city baths, city walls and gates; and traces of its mosques and minarets (now converted to churches and church towers), and many large public cisterns that allowed quarters such as the Albaicín to develop in the medieval period by provisioning the residents with water. We read the city as a layered entity, in which specific objects—such as the spolia column capitals from Cordoba that were brought for use in Granada’s city baths—were visible reminders of other places and periods in Andalusi history.

On Day 7 we focused on the Albaicín and architectural conversions. 

On Day 8 we considered how the city is presented in Granada’s museums, visiting the Alhambra Museum, the Carmen del Rey, and the Pabellón de al-Andalus (a museum installation of the Fundación El Legado Andalusí)—places where medieval history is celebrated but the Franco period virtually unmentioned. Participants prepared with readings (from the bibliography) and the Plano guía del Albaicín andalusi (2015), which is a very detailed map of historic sites in the old Muslim quarter by Antonio Almagro, Antonio Orihuela, and Carlos Sánchez-Gómez.

Day 9 was reserved for discussion and presentations by the program participants.