Qantara Qantara

the Kutubīyah Mosque

  • Name : the Kutubīyah Mosque
  • Place : Kutubīyah Mosque Location: Marrakech, Morocco
  • Construction date/period : AD 1160 and 1195
  • Construction materials : Stone, brick, and wood
  • Architectural pattern : ceramics, plaster, and wood
  • Dimensions : Perimeter of the prayer-hall: 305m; courtyard: 46m x 18.75m; minaret height 69.50m x 12.80m

The Kutubīyah Mosque (the ‘Booksellers’ mosque[1]) was constructed after the fall of the Almoravids and the triumphant entry of the Almohads into the capital Marrakech, in 1147. There, they destroyed the religious buildings constructed by the Almoravids and constructed new sanctuaries[2]. ‘Abd al-Mu’min[3] decided to construct a grand mosque on the very spot where the Almoravid palace of ‘Alī ibn Yūsuf stood.

The Kutubīyah underwent two major construction phases. Very little remains of the initial building  (it was badly orientated in relation to Mecca). The second phase (the current building) used the same plan and a minaret was erected in the south-eastern corner. The mosque was built on a trapezoidal plan and is one of the foremost sanctuaries in the Maghrib. Its prayer room has seventeen naves perpendicular to the qibla, which is set out, like the mosque at Tinmel and Kairouan, in a T-shaped plan. This type of plan was already common in Mesopotamia in the ninth century, in the Abu Dulaf Mosque, in the city of Sāmarra (Iraq). This layout was made possible by two naves enlarged with five domes, one nave being in the mihrab’s axis, the other being parallel and transversal to the qibla wall. This structure may be the legacy of the Fātimids, who already placed naves before the qibla and enlarged them with domes at the end of the tenth century. K.A.C. Creswell suggests that three domes topped the transversal nave of the al-Hākim Mosque in Cairo. Four vast galleries in the courtyard are part of the extension of the lateral naves, which is an identical layout to that of the Abu Dulaf Mosque. The prayer-hall is entered through six lateral doors, all of which are protected by an imposing projecting doorway.

The mihrab in the centre of the qibla wall is constituted of a niche that opens into a horseshoe arch, surrounded by two concentric arches in a rectangular band framing an arch (alfiz), whose spandrels are adorned with projecting rosettes. This Islamic decoration is characteristic of Spanish Islamic art and was transmitted this way to the Christians in the West. The springs of the arch rest on abaci supported by Umayyad capitals that had previously been used in Almoravid architecture. The niche’s interior is covered with an octagonal muqarnas dome, which, along with those of the transversal nave and two domes at Tinmel, is the only remaining Almohad specimen in Morocco. Above the mihrab, arcading enlivens the surface.

The arches of the transversal nave and the last arch of the axial nave are adorned with muqarnas. The other arches (pointed north arches) in the prayer-hall are supported by quadrangular pillars made from brick and covered in plaster, and entirely undecorated. The weight of all these supporting structures is lightened by false engaged columns topped with capitals. The latter have floral decorations arranged in two rows of flat acanthus, the lower row sometimes becoming a flat meandering ribbon. The capitals near the mihrab are the exception. There is a greater range of fingers on the acanthus leaves, whose style may be more ancient but exceptionally fine. The Kutubīyah capitals, like those at Tinmel, shed light on the beginnings of Andalusian-Maghrebian capitals that came from the composite capitals used on a grand scale in eleventh-century caliphate art. There are many similarities with the work in the Aljaferia palace in Zaragoza (eleventh century) where the rich decorations of palm leaves cover the squared Córdoban capital. The vigorous, sober, and hierarchical decorations in the Kutubīyah prayer-hall are part of the same tradition as those of Tinmel.


[1] Its name comes from the bookshops that used to exist on the square, in front of the entry door.

[2] The author of Bayan recounted that one of the first decisions taken by the new masters of Marrakech was the demolition of Almoravid religious edifices and the construction of new sanctuaries. This decision followed an ancient instruction of the spiritual leader of the Almohads, al-Mahdī ibn Tūmart, who wanted no one to enter Marrakech before its purification.

[3] The first caliph of the Almohad dynasty (reigned 1130–1163).


Basset, H.; Terrasse, H., ‘Sanctuaires et forteresses almohades’, in Hespéris, No. V, Paris: Institut des Hautes Études Moroccoaines/Larose, 1925, pp. 311376; VI, pp. 107270; VII, pp. 117171, 287345.

Cenival, P. de, ‘Marrâkushī’ in Encyclopédie de l’Islam, vol. VI, new edition, Leyde/Paris: E. J. Brill/Maisonneuve & Larose, pp. 573-582.

Creswell, K.A.C., The Muslim Architecture of Egypt, vol. I, Ikhshīds and Fātimids, New York: Hacker Art Books, 1978, pp. 65106.

Deverdun, G.., Marrakech des origines à 1912, Rabat: Techniques Nord Africaines, 1959.

Golvin, L., Essai sur l’architecture religieuse musulmane, l’art hispano-musulman, vol. 4,  Paris: Klincksieck, 1979.

Hassar-Bensliman, J., et al., ‘Tinmal 1981, fouille de la mosquée almohade’, in Bulletin  d’Archéologie  Moroccoaine, vol. XIV, 19811982, pp. 277312.

Marçais, G., l’Architecture musulmane d’Occident, Paris: Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1954.

Meunié, J., Recherches archéologiques à Marrakech, Paris: Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1952.

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