Hegira 6th century / AD 12th century
Caliph ‘Abd al-Mu’min (r. AH 524–58 / AD 1130–63).
Two 'mosques of Kutubiya' (the booksellers' quarter) were constructed in the space of a few years by 'Abd al-Mu'min. The later of the two has survived to our times. The two buildings were connected at a slight angle, and consequently the surviving Kutubiya is a trapezium shape and not a rectangle, as one of its outer walls belonged to its twin.
The size of the building is impressive: its sides measure around 92 m and 90 m lengthways and 66 m and 57 m widthways.
The internal layout follows a classical Almohad pattern: the axial nave and the nave that runs along the qibla are wider than the others and form a T shape.
There are eight naves on either side of the axial nave. The last four extend to the opposite wall on either side of the very wide and shallow courtyard, to which a very long gallery has been added to maintain a regular shape. The centre of the courtyard is occupied by a circular ablutions basin.
Stone and brick have been used variously: on the east side, the gateways are all in brick, while the gateways on the west side are made of brick and stone. The pillars that determine the shape of the structures are cruciform or semi-cruciform and they are made of brick covered with a thick coat of plaster. They are flanked by false engaged columns with floral capitals. The transverse nave that runs alongside the qibla is noteworthy for its large muqarnas (honeycomb) arches resting on simple columns, and for its five domes: one before the mihrab, two at the ends and two in between.
These domes have deep, smaller cupolas and extensive muqarnas.
The mihrab niche is behind a very high, very large horseshoe arch surrounded by two concentric arches decorated with knotwork beading. The spandrels carved in relief support a 16-lobe cupola. A large band of polygonal knotwork frames the decorated arch and the spandrels.
Above the minbar, a five-arcature (blind arcade) frieze is crowned with a wide band of polygonal knotwork.
This delicately finished decorative ensemble gives a strong impression of equilibrium, power and serenity.
The minaret, with it square base and sides 12.80 m long, rises to a total height of 77 m to the top of the spire. It is made of large stones mixed with brick in the lantern.
The four sides of the tower are decorated differently, with large panels of complex and luxurious arcatures at various different heights that bring together different combinations of arches and knotwork. Like the minaret, the lantern is crowned with indented tapered merlons around a platform filled with a thick-ribbed dome.
The Kutubiya is one of the most important vestiges of the Almohad dynasty.
The current, imposing Kutubiya is the second mosque of this name built by the Almohad 'Abd al-Mu'min, the first destroyed as it was wrongly oriented.
The building consists of 17 naves running lengthways, and the transverse nave beside the qibla wall has five large arches and five muqarnas (honeycomb) cupolas. The vast mihrab arch is sumptuously decorated. The rectangular courtyard has a circular ablutions basin. The square-plan minaret rises 77 m and is decorated differently on each face. In both architecture and decoration, this is one of the crowning achievements of Islamic art in the West.
Ibn Bashkuwal, quoted by al-Maqqari (c. 1592–1632) after he related the story of the transfer of the 'Uthman Qur'an from Córdoba to Marrakesh in 1157, adds: 'During this time, 'Abd al-Mu'min ordered the building of the Great Mosque of the capital at Marrakesh. Work started in the first days of Rabi II 553 [2–10 May 1158]. It was inaugurated with Friday prayers on 15 Shaban as indicated above [11 September 1158]' (cited by Deverdun, 1959).
Basset, H. et Terrasse, H., “Sanctuaires et forteresses almohades”, Hespéris, 1924.
Deverdun, G., “Marrakech, des origines à 1912”, Rabat, 1959, pp.172–94.
Marçais, G., L'Architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954, pp.206, 244.
Al-Maqqari, Nafh at-tib min ghosn al-andalus (Analects on the History and Literature of the Arabs in Spain), Leiden, 1855–61.
Kamal Lakhdar "Kutubiya Mosque" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;4;en
Prepared by: Kamal LakhdarKamal Lakhdar
Linguiste et sociologue de formation, c'est en autodidacte que Kamal Lakhdar s'est adonné aux études d'histoire du Maroc et du monde arabo-musulman, en axant tout spécialement ses recherches sur l'histoire de Rabat.
Sa carrière de haut fonctionnaire l'a conduit à occuper des fonctions de premier plan auprès de différents ministères. Il a notamment été membre du cabinet du ministre de l'Enseignement supérieur, conseiller du ministre des Finances, conseiller du ministre du Commerce et de l'Industrie, directeur de cabinet du ministre du Tourisme, chargé de mission auprès du Premier ministre et directeur de cabinet du Premier ministre.
Parallèlement, Kamal Lakhdar mène des activités de journaliste et d'artiste peintre – il a d'ailleurs été membre du Conseil supérieur de la Culture.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: MO 06
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Muslim West | Mosques: A Place for Prayer Geometric Decoration | Geometric Decoration in Architecture
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