Around 100 km south of Marrakesh, Tinmel, High Atlas, Morocco
Hegira 6th century / AD 12th century
‘Abd al-Mu’min Ibn ‘Ali, first Almohad king (r. AH 524–58 / AD 1130–63).
It was in the small village of Tinmel that Ibn Tumart settled in AH 515 / AD 1121 and planted the seed of the Almohad movement, which proclaimed him to be mahdi (inspired). It is from here that he launched his conquest of North Africa and it was here that he was buried in AH 524 / AD 1130.
Once the Almohads had consolidated their power, the tomb of the imam became a venerated sanctuary and a place of pilgrimage.
In AH 548 / AD 1154, 'Abd al-Mu'min built a large mosque on the site of the sanctuary, at the same time as the Kutubiya Mosque, which as a result of its remoteness ended up in ruins only to be restored in the late 20th century (no stones had been removed from the site, which is still venerated by the local population).
Of fairly modest dimensions (48 m by 43.6 m), it includes a courtyard measuring 23.65 m by 16.70 m flanked by two galleries that extend the naves of the oratory.
It is mainly built of bricks and earth mortar, stones and lime.
The prayer room consists of nine naves that run lengthways. The transverse nave that follows the qibla wall, the axial nave and the two outer naves are wider than the inner naves, which enabled the mihrab and the side corners to be crowned with domes decorated entirely with muqarnas (honeycomb work), some of the most ancient in Hispano-Maghrebian art.
The mihrab is the masterpiece of the decoration, simple yet powerful with its slightly pointed horseshoe arch accompanied by another very tall pointed arch and a surrounding arch that adds to the power of the ensemble, while the secondary elements (cupolas, floral decoration, lobed arches and mouldings) were kept discreet so as not to distract the faithful.
There are lobed arches between the back nave and the other rows of bays: two simple lobed arches framing a trefoil lobed arch either side of the mihrab and smooth pointed arcades everywhere else.
The capitals follow the same pattern: rich and diversified at the mihrab and the front nave, simple and similar elsewhere.
If geometric and floral decoration co-exist in abundance, epigraphic decoration is practically non-existent and is only found on some openwork plaster panels at the base of the domes. This is one of the distinguishing marks of Almohad religious art.
Three gateways located symmetrically in each of the side walls stand out from the façade with their projecting porches. A small door without a porch opens out onto the courtyard and two narrow openings are located on either side of the mihrab.
The minaret rises from a rectangular base measuring 9.50 m by 5.50 m. Now missing its top part, it stands above the mihrab.
The Tinmel mosque is rightly considered to be an archetype of Almohad decorative, architectonic and architectural art.
In AH 548 / AD 1154, 'Abd al-Mu'min, the first Almohad king, had a Friday mosque built in the village of Tinmel, the final resting place of the dynasty's spiritual guide. This small mosque consists of a courtyard with two galleries and a nine-nave prayer room. The cupolas of the mihrab and the side corners are covered with muqarnas, some of the oldest in the Muslim West. The decoration is predominantly geometric and floral, and the minaret rises above the mihrab. The mosque continued to be venerated after it fell into ruin, and was recently restored, making extensive use of the original building materials.
Al-Maqqari, in Nafh et-Tib (Analectes sur l'histoire et la littérature des Arabes d'Espagne, 2 vol., Leyden, 1855–61 / History of the Muhammadan dynasties in Spain, 2 vol., London, 1840), states that 'Abd al-Mu'min's two sons, Yusuf and Ya'qub, brought from a recently pacified al-Andalus (541 / 1147) one of four copies of the original Qur'an, which they displayed to the faithful at the Kutubiya Mosque in Marrakesh, then at the Tinmel Mosque, which had recently been completed. This enables us to date completion of the mosque to 548 / 1154.
Basset, H. and Terrasse, H. “Sanctuaires et forteresses almohades”, Hespéris, 1924, pp.9–91.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954, pp.201–2.
Triki, H., Hassar-Benslimane, J. and Touri, A., Tinmel, l'épopée almohade, Casablanca, 1992.
Kamal Lakhdar "Tinmel Mosque" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. 2017. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;9;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 11