Hegira 441 / AD 1050
Ibadid / Rustamid
When Abu al-Hattab, lord of the town of Kairouan under the orders of the Kharijites, was killed, the Ibadi appointed his companion, Ibn Rustam, as their leader, who went on to found a kingdom in AH 161 / AD 778 within the central Maghreb that extended from Kairouan to Fez, with Tahert as its capital. The word 'Kharijite' (from kharaja, to leave) is illustrative of recurring dissents that lead to a rupture with the dominant doctrine. In AH 37 / AD 658, four thousand followers left the town of Kufa, outraged by the decision to deny 'Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law, of his rights of succession in favour of Mu'awiya. The event is at the heart of the fracture that continues to run through and divide the Islamic world into Shi'ites and Sunnis.
The Rustamids dominated the central Maghreb for a century and a half, but, under the assaults of the Fatimids, they were forced to take refuge first at Sédrata (near Ouargla), then in the M'zab region, where they founded five towns in succession that constitute the 'Pentapolis' (Ghardaïa, Mélika, Bani Isguen, Bou Noura and El Atteuf). Through ingenious means of capturing and distributing the little water that was available, they were able from as early as the AH 6th / AD 12th century to create plantations of palm trees and gardens that still testify to an efficient ecological control of natural resources.
Built on the face of a rocky hillside, Bani Isguen, founded in AH 441 / AD 1050, is the holy town of the M'zab. It is surrounded by a vast rampart that is flanked by towers and pierced by three gates, which, until recently, were closed every night. Another tower, which dominates the town, is believed to have been built in a day in anticipation of an attack.
The houses that sit in the valley of the M'zab were designed to allow for a certain amount of diurnal 'nomadism'. They are usually built on two levels, on which one can find the same items necessary for daily life: the hearth, the latrines, the washroom, the bedrooms, the living room and the loom. This configuration allows one to live in the cool shade of the ground floor in summer, and at night-time, to carry on with the activities upstairs where it is fresher at night. In winter, the reverse applies. The summerhouses within the palm plantations are designed along the same lines. Beyond their functionalism, 'they were additionally endowed with beauty. The heterodox puritans preferred to live according to their own beliefs in the desert, rather than consent to live in opulence but according to the truths of others; however they did not concern themselves with beautifying their own homes. This was not through lack of good taste, rather, it was because they did not have the opportunity or the spare time to do so. Survival was first and foremost.'(From Ravereau, see Bibliography.)
Built on the side of a rocky hill, Bani Isguen is the holy town of the M'zab region. It is defended by a vast rampart flanked by towers and crossed via three gateways, and a tower that dominates the town. The rooms, built on two storeys, included bathrooms, bedrooms and a living room, along with a loom. The summer houses in the palm grove are laid out in the same fashion. Gardens could be cultivated thanks to ingenious devices that allowed the little available water to be used.
Through oral tradition.
Bourouiba, R., L'art religieux musulman en Algérie, Algiers, 1973.
Ministère de l'information et de la culture, Les mosquées en Algérie, Algiers, 1973.
Ravereau, A., Le M'zab, une leçon d'architecture, Paris, 1987.
Ali Lafer "Bani Isguen" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;dz;Mon01;27;en
Prepared by: Ali LaferAli Lafer
Architecte diplômé de l'École nationale d'architecture et des beaux-arts d'Alger, stagiaire du Centre international pour la conservation et la restauration des biens culturels (ICCROM) à Rome, Ali Lafer a été architecte en chef des Monuments au ministère de la Culture pendant son service civil. Directeur de l'Atelier Casbah chargé des études d'aménagement de la médina d'Alger, il a également enseigné au cours de Tunis pour la formation d'architectes du patrimoine maghrébin. Membre fondateur de l'association “Les amis du Tassili”, il est aussi chercheur dans les domaines de la numérisation de la documentation graphique et du relevé photogrammétrique.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Maria Vlotides
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: AL 36