Saffron is an important spice used commonly in Mediterranean, North African and Asian cuisine as a colouring and flavouring for many dishes including rice, seafood and meat dishes, soups, pastas, cheeses and liqueurs. Saffron has also been used as a textile dye, in perfumes and in medicine for over 3,000 years
Alhakem II or Al-Hakam II, the illustrious, intelligent and sensitive Caliph of Córdoba, symbolizes our pluralist, tolerant and universal Andalusi cultural heritage like nobody else. Refinement, intelligence and wisdom.
Alhakem Saffron attempts to capture this sense of universal refinement, the fruits of culture and knowledge of the arts.
Alhakem Saffron: Art, Culture and Universalism.
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Caliph AL-HAKEM II
Al-Hakem II (الحكم الثاني), also known as Alhakem II, was born in the city of Córdoba in the year 915 and died in 976. From 961, he was the second Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba. Al-Hakem II, son of Abd-ar-Rahman III, maintained peace and prosperity in Al-Andalus, and continued the boom that began under his father’s rule.
An erudite book lover, he was educated in both the sciences and the arts. He oversaw the grandest expansion of the Mosque of Córdoba and also continued with the works of the Medina Azahara.
According to Ibn Idharihe, he had reddish-blonde hair, large black eyes and an aquiline nose, was generously built and had long arms.
At the age of eight he was named as successor to Abd-ar-Rahman III. He received an exquisite education, participating intensely in both the affairs of government and military campaigns, accompanying the Caliph on many occasions. He took power at the age of 47, after the death of his father.
An illustrious, intelligent Caliph, Al-Hakam was sensitive and extremely pious, so much so that, worried by his subject’s drinking habits, he attempted to curtail it by ordering the destruction of the vineyards. However, his advisers convinced him of two things: that fig liquor caused greater degrees of drunkenness and that the vineyards were necessary to produce the raisins used to feed the troops.
The Caliphate was based on equality between all ethnic and religious groups in terms of access to government positions, putting an ended to the military nobility of Arab, Berber, Slavic or any other origin. Respect for Christians, Jews and the great majority of the population along with the creation of meritocratic bureaucracy and a commercial and administrative middle class were the basis of the state’s welfare.
- He dedicated himself to the Mosque, the construction of which he had inspected during his father’s rule, completing the most beautiful extension and finest decoration. This involved removing the quibla wall and extending the oratory to twelve bays, featuring a series of covered skylights with beautiful ribbed domes and a maqsurah with crossed polylobular arches. He also over saw the construction of the mihrab, the entrance to which was decorated with beautiful mosaics crafted by byzantine masters and sent by the Basileus (Byzantine emperor) of the time.
- He also completed the Medina Azahara, maintaining the same architectural and decorative style. He used its rooms from spring to autumn and occasionally in winter to preside over solemn receptions and to receive ambassadors.
- He refurbished the Alcázar and built castles in many areas to defend against the Christian Kingdoms.
- He also completed other public works in Córdoba, turning the city into the most important in Europe both in terms of population and in the political and cultural sphere. It was the first city on the Iberian Peninsula to have paved streets, public lighting at night and a sewer system, which was distributed through a perfectly organised network: something truly extraordinary for that time. There is also some reference to similar works of this kind in other cities.
The spread of Andalusi culture throughout Europe was assured thanks to the travels of Mozarab monks to Christian Spain, to the Hispanic Mark as a far as Lorraine.
- Medicine was in the hands of the Mozarabs until the middle of the 9th century. At this time many practices came from the east, replacing Christian ones. And, a century later, the eastern translation of Pedanius Dioscorides was adapted to the botanical terminology of Al-Andalus, thanks to the collaboration of the Jewish physician and scholar Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the Byzantine monk Nicholas and the Muslim doctor Ibn Yulyul.
- He founded 27 public schools where scholars taught the poor and orphans in return for attractive salaries, and issued a decree making education compulsory for all children.
- The Caliph was also a patron of the Univeristy of Córdoba, which attracted scholars from all over the world.
He created a library of over 400,000 volumes from all fields of knowledge. In an annex he kept a workshop with copyists, miniaturists and bookbinders, and we even know the names of some of the most important among them: they included Lubna, Al-Hakam II’s private secretary and Fátima, head librarian, who pioneered an innovative and efficient referencing system. According to chroniclers, in one single suburb of the city, there could be up to one hundred and seventy women dedicated to book copying, which gives an idea of the culture the women of Córdoba were exposed to in those times. He even had his own agents in Cairo to search for and buy books on his behalf.
The symbol of this pluralist, tolerant, universal and original Andalusi culture was, undoubtedly, the library of Al-Hakam II. An illustrious, intelligent Caliph, sensitive and pious, the only pity is that his rule lasted for barely 15 years.