Kutubiya Mosque (1158)
By the 12th century, the divided North Africa (Maghreb) was subdued to the rule of the Almohads, a dynasty founded by devoted religious leaders calling themselves Almuwahidun: the proclaimers of the oneness of God (Allah). The name also has a political meaning: "the uniters", a title which gathered them a lot of support. Renowned for their religious devotion and military organization the Almohads managed to pacify North Africa and played a prominent role in delaying the Christian conquest of Muslim Spain. They defeated various crusading campaigns, especially against Alfonso 8th (1158-1214) at Alarcos, and at Las Navas de Tolosa. Indeed, following the collapse of the Almohads in late 13th century, much of Muslim Spain was conquered by Christian armies.
The cultural attainment of Almohads was as impressive, hosting two of the most renowned scholars of the medieval world; Ibn Rushd (Averroes) (1126-1198) and Ibn Tufail (d.1185). Their rule reached its zenith under Yusuf Yaqub and Yaqub Al-Mansur who developed trade and constructed a powerful naval fleet that challenged the Italian dominance of the Mediterranean. There are accounts which refer to this fleet being sent to the Syrian coast to assist Salah Addin against the crusaders. The Almohads built many cities and founded a number of impressive monuments, especially in their capitals Marrakech and Seville. Kutubiya Mosque was their first key monument built by Emir Abdul Mumin in 1147, the Almohad ruler who took over after the death of Ibn Tumart (1080-1130), his leader and the founder of the dynasty. With his wisdom and patience Abdul Mumin (1130/33-1163) managed to unite the dividing North African tribes, Zenata, Snahaja, and Masmuda, whose differences and disputes intensified towards the end of the Almuravid rule. He also defeated the Almuravids in Oran (Algeria) in 1145, and Marrakech (Morocco) in 1147, ending their 100 year rule of North Africa. To celebrate this victory, Abdul Mumin chose to build a new majestic mosque in the capital of his defeated enemies, in Marrakech. The victorious leader soon extended his rule into Spain, then Tunisia and Libya.
|Plan of Kutubiya Mosque|
Origins and History
The word "Kutubiyyin" is a Moroccan name for book makers/merchants who set up their bookshops, libraries and printers in a district of 12th century Marrakech. According to Leon the African , the area consisted of a street containing some 100 bookshops and libraries, 50 on each side. This activity reached its zenith during the reign of Yaqub Al-Mansur who constantly encouraged the spread of book printing and promoted reading generally. Historic resources recount how one day a celebrated literate man named Ibn Al-Saqr who, during the 8 months siege of Marrakech, left his house to buy some food for his hungry family and ended up spending all his money on buying a book instead .
Abul Mumin chose to build his mosque adjacent to this street to emphasize the importance of reading and learning as the main source of progress, hence the origin of the name "Kutubiya". It is a noteworthy reminder that there has always been a strong relationship between mosques and booksellers. Both shared in the passion for knowledge, with the mosque being the main learning center and bookshops providing the teaching materials, and they were therefore traditionally located side by side.
Kutubiya was first built in 1147 CE and was made of 17 aisles running perpendicular to the Qibla wall. It was, however, destroyed a few years later most probably because of its bad orientation towards Makkah. In 1158, it was rebuilt, immediately next to the previous site, in its original form but with a corrected orientation and an added minaret.
Plan and Design
The building consists of a rectangular hall enclosing the prayer room (sanctuary) and the courtyard. As with the original mosque, the 17 aisles of the new Kutubiya hall run from east to west meeting the Qibla wall at a right angle, reiterating the T plan seen in Al-Quds, Qayrawan and Cordoba. The central aisle (nave) was made substantially wider and crowned with six cupolas. At the mihrab area there is a large aisle roofed with five domes of Muqarnas and running from north to south which intersects with the Qibla wall. The multifoil and fest arches framing these aisles provide the main decorative theme in the mosque (See top image - Source: Hattstein, M. And Dellius, P. (2000), 'Islam art and architecture', Konemann, Cologne, p.26 ). This was enhanced by the skilful use of light and rhythmic graduation of its depth creating a warm atmosphere .
|Kutubiya minaret and side wall showing the ruins of the first Kutubiya mosque (1147)|
Archeological surveys made by French scholars confirmed what was reported by a 14th century Andalusian anonymous writer in 1381/2, Hulal al-Muchwiyya , that Abd al-Mumin (d. 1163) added a maqsura (a screen which encloses the area of the mihrab) to the mosque which he connected to his Palace with a vaulted passage. The builder was a Spanish Muslim from Malaga called al-Hajj Yaich, who was also behind the construction of the fortress of Jabal al-Fath (Gibraltar) in 1160. The author also reported that Abd al-Mumin brought to the Kutubiya a minbar made in Andalusia of pieces of wood from Khmer, red and yellow sandalwood and gold and silver ornaments. This ivory- inlaid minbar does in fact have an inscription which states that it was carved in Cordova . Such objects highlight the cultural and artistic exchange between Andalusia and North Africa.
The court of the mosque is an open area in the southern side of the hall surrounded by arcades made from extended aisles of the sanctuary. In the north-western corner, the famous Kutubiya minaret stands, over 67m high, showing the religious devotion of the dynasty. Sources indicate that the architect was a Moroccan named Jabir who set the first prototype of what was to become the famous Almohad square Minarets, which reappeared later in the Great Mosque of Seville (1171), Hassan mosque at Rabat (1195/6) and Mosque of Seville, and at a later stage in Mansurah Mosque at Telemcen (1333-36) .
|The top sections of the minaret received special care, here showing details of intersecting lobbed (multifoil) arches in the lower section and the Shabka (net) scheme in the upper section.|
The Kutubiya minaret has plain slender edges that serve to dematerialise their bulk. The decoration on surfaces varies on each side the single or double openings are framed by a variety of lobbed, interlaced and festooned arches employing semi-circular and horseshoe shapes. The decoration starts from the simple plain lower sections, mainly in the form of frames decorated with two lobed windows and an adorned arch, to become more complex towards the top where an intersecting multifoil arch decor system (known as Shebka) adorns the top sections.
Kutubiya mosque represents a unique example of the conceptual unity of style that is rarely found in North African Islamic architecture. Its importance is further emphasised by the scarcity of monuments of this period. The mosque can be considered as the first workshop where Almohad art and architecture developed. Meanwhile the integration of architectural forms in the decorative scheme was another achievement attributed to the mosque.
Another feature that needs to be highlighted is the unusual absence of any signature identifying the founder of the mosque. Emir Abdul Mumin seemed to reject leaving any traces of his name on the building although this was a common practice in the Middle Ages. If it was not for good historical records, he could have remained anonymous, an act which can only be explained by the religious devotion of this great Almohad leader.
 Almurabitun in Arabic meaning defenders of the faith.
 Note that printers during the 12th century were no more than editors manually writing and rewriting various manuscripts (Nashakheen).
 Leon l'Africain
 More recent stories reveal that in 1766 the Moroccan king ransomed some Christian prisoners with books stolen by Spanish pirates from the famous Library of Ahmed Al-Mansur.
 (Michell, p.217)
 Meuni, J., Terrasse, H.and Deverdun, G.(1952), 'Recherches Archeologiques a Marrakech, Paris., p.47, N0. 4.
 Jairazbhoy, R.A. (1972), 'An Outline of Islamic Architecture', Asia Publishing House, Bombay, London and New York, .p93)
 See our article: The Architecture of the Muslim Khilafa in Spain and North Africa (756-1500).
by: FSTC Limited, Sat 30 October, 2004