The city of Cordoba in central Andalusia, Spain, was one of the most enlightened cities in the medieval world under the Muslim Umayyad rulers. Its streets had lighting, there were public baths and hospitals in every neighbourhood, and its libraries were stocked with more books than the whole of northern Europe. In fact, Cordoba remains the only caliphate city ever established in the western hemisphere – a place that was also home to some of the world’s great luminaries. A few of these ‘sons of Cordoba’ are celebrated today through a series of statues found scattered across the city.
Al Hakem II – Caliph
Son of the first ever European Caliph, Al Hakem II was renowned for his love of knowledge and often bought books from places as far afield as Kufa and Constantinople. His reign saw one of the first great translation movements in the Muslim world as he commissioned the Arabisation of important Latin and Greek works. Al Hakem’s library was reportedly better stocked than the rest of the continent and he also employed one of Cordoba’s greatest female minds, Lubna of Cordoba, as his personal secretary. Blond haired and dark-eyed, he is said to have had a gentle nature and is also remembered for opening twenty schools for impoverished children, expanding the city’s Great Mosque and completing the fabled palatial city, Madinah Az Zahra. He died in 976.
Location: Plaza Campo Santo de los Martires
Al Gafeqi – Doctor and Optician
Studying the works of contemporary Muslim doctors as well as the works of Hippocrates, this 12th-century man of medicine was known for his expertise in optics, especially his skill in removing cataracts. Al Gafeqi was probably the first modern ‘optician’ to highlight the importance of diet in retaining good eyesight. His most famous work, Guide to the Oculist, was seen as an outstanding historical, scientific and literary achievement. A copy of it remains in the library of El Escorial Monastery near Madrid.
Location: Plaza del Cardenal Salazar in front of the Faculty of Philosophy and Arts
Ibn Hazem –
Poet, Philosopher and theologian
Known as Al Andalusi Az Zahiri – for his propagation of the Zahiri madhhab (religious sect) – Ibn Hazm was born shortly after the reign of Al Hakem II and witnessed the beginning of the end of the Spanish Umayyad empire. As the son of a civil servant, Ibn Hazem was nurtured in the rich cultural melee of the royal courts, where he studied great works and mixed with the city’s aristocracy. However, when civil war broke out in Al Andalus, Ibn Hazm’s criticism of the illegal taifa kingdoms popping up across the empire forced him to flee. He wrote more than 400 treatises on politics, history, theology and literature, with his most famous work being The Ring of the Dove – a milestone in medieval literature that influenced later Romantic writes and gave birth to the genre of Courtly Love. He died in 1064 in the village of Montija (in Huelva).
Location: Puerta De Sevilla (Gate of Seville)
Ibn Rushd – Philosopher, Theologian, Astronomer and Doctor
Known in the western world by his Latinised name Averroes, Abu-l-Walid Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Rushd was one of the most brilliant minds of Cordoba. The great polymath, born in 1126, came from a long line of qadis (judges) and was part of the Cordoban educated elite. He served as a qadi in both Seville and Cordoba – in the latter, as Chief Qadi. An expert on Aristotelian philosophy and Islamic theology, Ibn Rushd wrote many treatises attempting to marry the two. His most famous, Commentaries on Aristotle, became the most influential work of Hellenic thought in medieval Europe, reawakening the continent’s interest in Greek philosophy. He died in Marrakech, Morocco in 1198.
Location: Calle Cairuan
Maimonides – Rabbi, Philosopher, Doctor and Astronomer
Known to the Jewish community as the second Moses, Moseh Ben Maimon was a highly celebrated Jewish doctor, philosopher, astronomer and Torah theologian who was born in Cordoba in 1135 and like his contemporary Ibn Rushd was one of the most brilliant minds of his age. Sadly his life coincided with the arrival in Al Andalus of the intolerant Almohads of North Africa, which led to his family’s exile to Fez in Morocco in 1158. This was followed by a period in Palestine before Maimonides settled in Fustat, Egypt in 1165 where he became the personal physician to the great Muslim leader Salah-ud-din as well as Nagid of the country’s Jewish community until his death in 1204. Amongst his most celebrated works are the Misneh Torah, Guide for the Perplexed (philosophy) and his medical canon, Commentary of Aphorisms. Location: Plaza De Tiberiade
Where in the world: The statues are spread out through the historic centre of Cordoba, the city in the Spanish region of Andalusia – derived from Al-Andalus, the historic Arabic name for the Iberian peninsula under Umayyad rule.
In and out: The best way to get to Cordoba is to fly into Malaga airport and get the train north. The old town Take a trip out to the ruins of Madinah Az Zahra completed by Al Hakem II, which is a short bus ride from Cordoba and appreciate the heights reached by the caliphs of Al Andalus. This palatial city, now in ruins was built when Al Andalus was arguably the most enlightened city in the world – a story told through the site’s impressive museum.