Kasbah of the Udayas
At the mouth of the Bou Regreg opposite Salé, Rabat, Morocco
Hegira 6th / AD 12th century; beginning of Hegira 11th / end of AD 17th century
Almohad; 'Alawid; Moorish refugees from Spain
‘Abd al-Mu’min and Ya‘qub al-Mansur (Almohad period), Mulay Isma‘ïl (‘Alawid period).
The Kasbah of the Udayas owes its name to an Arab tribe that settled in southern Morocco in the AH 12th / AD 18th century from which the 'Alawid Sultan Mulay Isma'il (r. AH 1083–1140 / AD 1672–1727) recruited some of his army, parts of which were garrisoned in Rabat to defend it from neighbouring tribes.
The first ribat constructed at this site is mentioned in AH 366 / AD 977 by the geographer Ibn Hawqal, who affirmed that it could accommodate up to 100,000 combatants.
In AH 534 / AD 1140, the Almoravids constructed a kasbah to defend themselves against the Almohad threat. The Almohads besieged and destroyed the kasbah, before reconstructing it in AH 544 / AD 1150 once they had come to power, adding a palace and a mosque. They named it al-Mahdiyya, in homage to their spiritual guide al-Mahdi Ibn Tumart.
After the death of Ya'qub al-Mansur (AH 595 / AD 1199) and the abandonment of the project for a new capital at Ribat al-Fath, the kasbah was deserted.
It was not until the AH 11th / AD 17th century that it was revitalised with the arrival of thousands of Moriscos expelled from Spain, who went on to establish a sort of independent republic that lasted for half a century and acquired great renown as a pirate stronghold.
The Kasbah of the Udayas is currently made up of an upper part founded by the Almohads, and a lower part founded by the 'Alawids.
The Almohad wall that surrounds the kasbah, 2.50 m wide and 8–10 m tall, is built with ashlars and bordered by a sloping esplanade where some old cannon still stand.
Built by Ya'qub al-Mansur, the monumental gateway stands on a knoll and dominates the town. Built of red ochre freestone, it is made up of an arch flanked by two towers and bears repeated sculptural decoration on the inner façade. The spandrels of the arch are framed with a kufic inscription. Snake motifs at the springing point of the festooned arches constitute an unusual addition in Moroccan decoration. This gateway leads to a series of three square rooms separated by steps: the first is covered with a domed vault resting on squinches, the second with a dome on pendentives and the third with a barrel vault. One large and one small door open onto the inside of the fortress. A flight of stairs at the back leads to the terrace.
The kasbah contains the oldest mosque in Rabat, Jami' al-'Atiq (AH 544 / AD 1150) whose minaret was restored by Ahmad al-Inglizi, a converted Englishman.
The princely pavilion constructed by Mulay Isma'il is currently home to the Museum of Traditional Arts.
At the beginning of the AH 12th / end of the AD 17th century, the kasbah was endowed with a semaphore signal, warehouses and a defensive burj (the Tower of the Privateers) whose cannons were aimed at the river and the town of Salé.
Since the AH 4th / AD 10th century there has been a ribat on the left bank of the Bou Regreg, where the Almoravids built a kasbah, which was destroyed and then rebuilt by the Almohads. Abandoned in the 7th / 13th century, it was not revived until the 11th / 17th century with the arrival of the Moriscos expelled from Spain, who lived there for 50 years and devoted themselves to piracy. Surrounded by a tall, thick Almohad wall with a monumental gateway decorated with carvings and leading to a row of three rooms, the kasbah includes an Almohad mosque, the oldest in Rabat, and a princely 'Alawid pavilion, now a museum.
The anonymous work al-Hulal al-mawshiya, compiled around 1380, states that the original kasbah was built by 'the amir Tashufin', or Tashufin Ibn Ali, who reigned AH 537–541 (AD 1142–45). Recent excavations have revealed the remains of the ancient gateway and the Almoravid wall.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954.
Terrasse, H., “Le décor des portes anciennes du Maroc”, Hespéris, 1923, pp.147–74.
Terrasse, H., Histoire du Maroc, des origines à l'établissement du Protectorat Français, 2 vols., Casablanca, 1949.
Andalusian Morocco: A Discovery in Living Art, pp.234–6.
Kamal Lakhdar "Kasbah of the Udayas" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;6;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 08
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