| Art & Architecture<
|Figure 1. Qalaa Beni Hammad, Algeria (1007) in a state of ruin, shows early Muslim adoption of this type of tower|
The origin of church towers and church steeples is looked at here and identified as coming as a result of early Christian encounters with Minarets in different forms.
The successful campaign lead by Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi to seize the North African Caliphate from the Aghlabite rulers established the Fatimid rule which swiftly extended to Egypt setting up the city of Al-Qahira (Cairo) in 969 CE. Later, the Fatimid princes moved to this new city making it the centre of their state whilst maintaining the rule of North Africa through their Berber vassals ; the Zirids (972–1148) in Tunisia and the Hammadids (1007- 1158) in Algeria. Unlike the Zirids who had troubled times dominated by atrocious insecurity, the Hammadids managed to achieve enduring peace enabling them to establish prosperous cities and undertake many architectural projects. Their most celebrated cities were Qala' and Bejaia, the first in the Al-Hodna region at the frontier of the Sahara and the second on the Mediterranean coast.
Hammad, the founder of the dynasty, chose the Ma'adid mountains to build his Qala' city whose fame soon reached all parts of the Maghrib, overtaking the fame of the declining city of Kairawan. Historic sources, for example, indicate that the city's fortifications exceeded 7 km, a length which provides an idea of its significant size if compared to contemporary towns of the region. According to Al-Bakri, by the end of the eleventh century the town became an important commercial centre attracting trading caravans from the whole of North Africa and as far away as Iraq, Hijaz, Egypt and Syria . The prosperity of Qala' brought also artists, masons and literary people transforming into a cultural and artistic centre. Discoveries made by French excavations from debris, fragments and kilns, suggested that Qala' was also a regional pottery centre.
|Figure 2. Qalaa beni Hammad, the tower reconstructed.|
Towards the year 1090 the Qala' was sacked by Banu Hilal and Banu Suleym tribes who destroyed also Kairawan. The Hammadid rulers and population, including the artists and craftsmen, took refuge in Bejaia, a coastal town in eastern Algeria. At some stage later, the descendants of Qala' potters migrated from Bejaia to Spain where they established the lustre industry .
The Qala' Complex
The destruction of the town in 1090 was so complete that hardly anything remains, a condition which greatly reduced the amount of information we have about this town and its monuments. Consequently, historical and archaeological studies did not go beyond the royal complex of the Qala', the major edifice of this once glamorous city. The palace consisted of the Great Mosque and the royal residential palaces clustered around it. The complex was built by Hammad around 1007, the time of the foundation of the town. The existence of a number of poems describing the magnificence of Al-Qala' make this palace equal only to those sprawling ensembles of Samarra and Madinat al-Zahra .
The Great Mosque and its Minaret
According to Paul Blanchet and General de Beylié who were the first to conduct excavations on the site, the mosque consisted of a large rectangular prayer room of typical North African T plan made of thirteen aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla wall. This wall was fitted with two gates; one for the ruler set next to the mihrab leading to the maqsura, the other gate was for public use. Three more gates were distributed on the remaining three sides. The maqsura itself was of an unprecedented size extending over an area of five naves long and four aisles deep. The mosque was equipped with a courtyard of mediocre size surrounded by arcade and in the north western arcade an ablution area (Muidha) was fitted.
|Figure 3. St. Abbondio Church at Como, Lambardy, Italy (1063-1095).|
The most important element of the mosque, however, is its minaret. Set at the end of the courtyard at the centre of the northern wall opposite the Qibla wall, in similar fashion to that found in the Great Mosque of Quairawan, the minaret is the only remaining structure of the whole town. With a huge size of 25 meters, it is indeed one of the largest minarets of the Muslim world consisting of six sections of equal size .
The main decoration, in the form of a tri-partite design, is found in the southern façade, the remaining sides were left simple and blind. In the centre of this façade a deep arched niche running from the base to the top section was inserted. At its foot a rectangular entrance framed with a semicircular arch was pierced while in the upper sections arched windows were arranged one above the other displaying the number of floors (sections) composing the minaret. The second section was decorated by a blind sinqfoil arch raised on slender columns which stood next to the wall of the central niche . In the third and fourth sections the central niche was flanked by smaller and narrower deep niches, one on each side. In the two upper sections the central windows were flanked by arched screens.
The above decorative scheme, especially the use of narrow deep niches seems to dominate much of the surface decoration of the region during this period. We find it in the residential palaces of the Qala' , especially in the Al-Manar and Al-Bahr Palaces. It was also traced in the gate of the Mosque of Mehdiya (Tunisia) built by the Zirids in 961 C.E. Other sources traced the first appearance of this type of decorative niches for the external decoration of facades to Warka Palace in Mesopotamia . Others related it to the palace of Fairuz Abad in Iran where similar niches decorated the whole height of the facades .
|Figure 4. Tower of St.Martin, Spain (12th century)|
Architectural and Historical Merits of the Minaret
The form and size of the minaret of Qala' and various types of arches used on the frames of these windows including the trifoil, cinqfoil, semi-circular and polylobed arches later formed the character of the Romanesque and Gothic towers in the We
by: FSTC Limited