Qantara Qantara

Minbar of the Kutubīyah Mosque

  • Title/name : Minbar of the Kutubīyah Mosque
  • Production place : Córdoba, Spain
  • Discovery place : Maroc, Marrakesh, mosquée Kutubiyya
  • Date / period : started in AH 532/AD 1137, finished before 1147
  • Materials and techniques : cedarwood and pine; decoration: marquetry in black African wood, boxwood, red jujube, rosewood, and bone.
  • Dimensions : Height 3.86m; length 3.46m; depth 90cm
  • Conservation town : Marrakech
  • Conservation place : the Badi Palace
  • Inscription :

    ‘I seek refuge in Almighty God to flee from

    Satan the rejected,

    In the name of God, Most Gracious,

    Most Merciful.’

    And Koran 4:54–61 and Koran 2:255–7.

The minbar of the Kutubīyah Mosque in Marrakech takes the form of a triangular staircase. This form is widespread in the Islamic world, and may originate in the Coptic ambons (pulpits) like the stone example in the Monastery of St. Jeremy in Saqqara[1]. The leader of the prayer stood on one of the first steps—it was never higher than the third one down, as the seat was symbolically reserved for the Prophet—to deliver the khutba, or sermon. The origin of this practice goes back to the era of Muhammad, when his disciples requested that he be elevated so that all the worshippers could see him. In the Catholic religion, the sermon was also delivered from a high pulpit.

On the orders of ‘Alī ibn Yūsuf (reigned 1106–1142), the last Almoravid sultan, this minbar was constructed in Córdoba starting in 1137, according to the inscription on its back. Constituted of a hundred or so demountable parts, it is mounted on roulettes, enabling it to be brought out only on Fridays, with the help of a mechanism. Mobile minbars were common in the early years of Islam: the Great Mosque in Sāmarrā in the twelfth century had one of these devices, and it was kept in a special room near the mihrab. They were then used in the Muslim West, with the first minbar of the al-Qarawīyīn Mosque (c.830) that has now disappeared, and those of the Great Mosque of Córdoba (975–976) and the Great Mosque of Algiers (1097), which still has its small storage room[2]. However, not all the minbar were mobile: the one in the al-Qayrawān Mosque (862–863), for example, is stationary, like most of those made outside the Islamic West.

The minbar is entirely in marquetry in various woods and bone, copying techniques that go back to classical antiquity, which were practised in Islam since the Umayyad era[3] (661–750) and continued for some time, especially in the Maghrib. Many of the wooden panels are carved using a method reminiscent of Spanish ivory from the same period[4]. They are all different; while all are sculpted with vegetal motifs, these are sometimes inside polygonal arcatures. The minbar’s decorations are aniconic in line with the object’s liturgical purpose. Bands of marquetry that create complex, regular geometrical motifs around eight-pointed stars set off the carved panels. These are encountered often in Islamic arts, for example in decorations on ceramics[5], bookbinding[6], textiles, and in western works influenced by Eastern culture.

The minbar is adorned with several types of arch. On each side of the first and last steps there are arcatures, whose horseshoe arches reflect those decorating the risers. While they are often considered to be typical of the Islamic west, they appeared well before Islam: they can be seen in the Indian caves at Ellora (sixth to seventh centuries) and in Visigoth Spain[7]. In the Middle Ages, they were sometimes used in Christian countries during the Carolingian period[8] and in Roman art[9], but more often in Spain and in the Maghrib, as seen in the mihrab of the Córdoba Mosque. The network of multifoil arches on the back may also relate to this edifice, but there are also equivalents in the Ajaferia Palace in Zaragoza, which was virtually its contemporary. This architecture also comprises irregular arches that combine right angles and cusps, reminiscent of those on the interior sides of the minbar. The fashion for using multifoil networks continued under the Nasrids (1230–1492), and in Mudejar art.

NOTE

[1] Ambon, Egypt, Saqqara, Monastery of St. Jeremy, sixth to seventh century, limestone, Cairo, the Coptic museum, 7988.   

[2] Other mobile minbars can be seen in the Kaaba of Mecca (offered by the Caliph al-Wāthiq, reigned 842–847), to the Mosque of Sfax (Tunisia, 849), and the Andalusian Mosque in Fez (Morocco, 980–5), etc.

[3] Coffer or cenotaph panel, Egypt, second half of the eighth century, wood and bone marquetry, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 37.103.

[4] Plaque, Spain, Cordoba? Tenth to eleventh century, ivory, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 13.141.

[5] Facing tiles in the shape of stars and crosses, Iran, Kashan, second half of the thirteenth century, ceramics, Paris, Louvre museum, MAO 549, OA 4079, OA 7880-107, OA 3294, OA 4078.

[6] Koran, frontispiece, Spain, Valencia, AH 578/ AD 1182, parchment, Istanbul, the University library, A. 6754 f° 1v.

[7] Spain, San Juan Bautista de Baños, seventh century.

[8] Italy, Orviedo, Church of Santa Maria de Naranco, 842–850; France, church of Saint-Martin-des-Puits, eleventh century.

[9] Lintel, stone, France, Saint-Genis-des-Fontaines, 1020.

BIBLIOGRAPHY RELATED TO THE ITEM

Bloom, J. M., et al, The Minbar from the Kutubiyyahh Mosque, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.

Dodds, J. D., Al Andalus, the art of Islamic Spain, (exhibition catalogue, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992), New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992, No. 115, pp. 362–367.

Ettinghausen, R.; Grabar, O.; Jenkins-Madina, M., Islamic art and architecture, 6501250, New Haven/ London: Yale University Press, 2001, p. 279–280, No. 457.

Sauvaget, J., ‘Sur le minbar de la Kutubiya de Marrakech’, in Hésperis, 1949, 36.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Basset,  H.; Terrasse, M., ‘Sanctuaires et forteresses almohades’, in Hésperis, 1926, 6, pp. 168–204.

Guichard, P., De la conquête Arabe à la reconquête: Grandeur et Fragilité d’Al-Andalus, Grenade: Fondation El Legado Andalusi, 2000.

Hernandez Jiménez, F., ‘El alminbar movil del siglo X del la mezquita de Cordoba’, in Al Andalous, 1959, 24.

Marçais, G., ‘La chaire de la grande mosque d'Algiers: étude sur l'art musulman occidental au début du XIe siècle’, Hésperis, 1921, I.

Marçais, G., ‘La chaire de la grande mosque de Nédroma’, in Cinquantenaire de la Faculté des lettres d'Algiers, 1881 - 1931

Pedersen, J.; Golmohammadi, J., ‘Minbar’, in Encyclopédie de l’Islam, new edition, vol. VII, Leyde/ Paris: E. J. Brill/ Maisonneuve & Larose, 1993.

Terrasse, H., ‘Minbar ancien du Morocco’, in Mélanges d'Histoire et l'Archéologie de l'Occident musulman, vol. II, Algiers, 1957.



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