Qantara Qantara

the minbar of the al-Qarawīyīn Mosque

  • Title/name : the minbar of the al-Qarawīyīn Mosque
  • Production place : Fez, Morocco
  • Date / period : AH 538/ February AD 1144
  • Materials and techniques : carved wood, ivory, and ebony; marquetry decorations
  • Dimensions : height 360cm; length 275cm; width 910cm
  • Conservation town : Fez, Morocco
  • Inscription :

    in cursive script, above the entry arch of the khutba[1]: in the month of Sha‘ban AH 538/ February AD 1144

The minbar of the al-Qarawīyīn Mosque was commissioned by the Almoravid sultan ‘Alī ibn Yūsuf (reigned 1106–1142) from a Córdoban workshop. According to the writings of al-Jaznā’ī, the object is the work of the learned Abū Yahya al-‘Atad, who lived to well over a hundred years old. He described him as a master of literature and poetry. Several students in Fez and abroad followed his teaching.[2]

The minbar is made of eight steps whose entry point is mounted with a cinquefoil horseshoe arch framed with a cursive script. The rear and sides are covered in decorations similar to those of the minbar of the Kutubīyah Mosque in Marrakech and the Great Almoravid Mosque at Algiers. The surface of the rear is covered in foliage ornamentation, and with vegetal decorations of symmetrical palmettes whose lower lobes are scrolled and voluted and serve as bases for fleurons. Executed on a raised marquetry inlay, of which little remains, these decorations are surrounded by identical multifoil arches that reflect the one over the first step leading to the pulpit, with its alternating bicoloured ebony and ivory arch-stones. The spandrels are covered with foliage punctuated with knotwork and palmettes. The sides, like the minbars of the Great Mosques of Kutubīyah and Córdoba, combine interlacing stars and extremely fine vegetal compositions. The overall design is unified by wooden panels whose assembly forms eight-point stars, dodecagons, rectangular polygons terminating with a protruding point on one side and an indented on the other[3], and elongated hexagons. These shapes contain carved, finger-shaped palmettes arranged in a relatively rigorous symmetrical design. As H. Terrrasse said, this ‘piece of furniture from Fez proves that the Almarovid minbar in Marrakech was not a magnificent, unique piece, but a masterpiece that came from a long tradition—that of Andalusian pulpits—begun by the caliph al-Hakam at the end of the tenth century in Córdoba[4].


[1] Terrasse, H., 1968, p. 49.

[2] Al-Jaznā’ī 1923, p. 100; Terrasse 1968, p. 52, and Golvin 1979, p. 232.

[3] Golvin 1979, p. 232.

[4] Terrasse 1968, p. 53.


Al-Jaznā’ī, A., Zahrat al'Ās (myrtle flower), about the founding of the city of Fez, A. Bel (translation), Algiers: ancienne maison Bastide-Jourdan, 1923.

التازي، عبد الهادي. جامع القرويين: المسجد والجامعة بمدينة فاس: موسوعة لتاريخها المعماري والفكري، بيروت، دار الكتاب اللبناني، 1972

Golvin, L., Essai sur l’architecture religieuse, vol. IV, Paris, 1979.

ابن أبي زرع، روض القرطاس، الرباط، 1990

Terrasse, H., ‘Minbars anciens du Morocco’, in Mélanges d’histoire et d’archéologie de l’Occident musulman offerts à G. Marçais, vol. II, Alger: imprimerie officielle de l'Algérie, 1957.

Terrasse, H., La mosque al-Qaraouiyin à Fès, Paris, 1968.

Terrasse H., ‘al-Karawiyyin’, in Encyclopédie de l’Islam, second edition, vol. IV, Leyde/Paris: E. J. Brill/Maisonneuve & Larose, 1978, pp. 657–661.

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