Qantara Qantara

Great Mosque of Tlemcen

  • Name : Great Mosque of Tlemcen
  • Place : Tlemcen, Algeria
  • Construction date/period : Mosque: 1136; minaret: 1236
  • Construction materials : Stone, brick, plaster
  • Architectural pattern : marble, openwork sculpted plaster, ceramic, wood
  • Recipient/Mandatory : ‘Alî ibn Yûsuf ibn Tâshufîn (1106-1142)
  • Dimensions : Mosque: 60 x 50 m; prayer hall: 49.3 x 25 m; minaret, H. 29.15 m
  • Inscriptions :

    (on the cornice in cursive script):

    بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على محمد وعلى آله وسلم هذا مما أمر بعمله الأمير الأجل...أيده الله وأعز نصره وأدام دولته، وكان إتمامه على يد الفقيه الأجل القاضي الأوصل أبي الحسن علي بن عبد الرحمن ابن علي أدام الله عزهم فتم في شهر جمادى الأخير عام ثلاثين وخمسمائة.

  • Translations-inscriptions :

    In the name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful. May Allah bless our Lord Mohammed, his family and bring them salvation! Executed by order of the Emir. The most illustrious…May Allah grant him everlasting power, assistance and perpetuate his reign! Brought to completion by the careful supervision of the most illustrious Jurisconsult, the very generous Cadi, Abû al-Hasan ‘Alî ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmân ibn ‘Alî; may Allah ensure him everlasting power! Completed in the month of Jumada II of the year five hundred and thirty.

The Great Mosque of Tlemcen belongs to the same group as the other Almoravid mosques in Algeria, those in Nedroma and Algiers. Its plan is irregular at the level of the north-west wall, undoubtedly because of the topography. The minaret rises up, slightly off the axis of the minaret, which was built by Yaghmurâsan in about 1236. Quadrangular in shape, it is composed of a tower topped by lantern. A quadrangular courtyard, off the axis, is surrounded by porticos on three of its sides, some of which are continuations of the naves. It opens onto the prayer hall with its thirteen naves set perpendicular to the qiblî wall and divided into six bays. The architecture of the Great Mosque of Tlemcen is distinctive in its use of horseshoe arches, some of which are broken or poly-lobed, and especially in its ornamentation at the level of the mihrâb—similar in form to the Qarawiyyin in Fez.

The area of the mihrâb is amplified by a wide nave, punctuated by two fine cupolas—the heritage of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the Kairouan mosque in Tunisia and the ’al-Azhar mosque in Cairo. The Tlemcen cupola, in the area of the mihrâ, is clearly the most remarkable. In sixteen ribbed sections and supported by four trunks with muqarnas, it rests on a square cornice. The ribs formed of lines of brick create ridges that jut out from the extrados. The panels connecting the ridges are sculpted in plaster, their extensive openwork creating a luminous lacy effect. A muqarnas lantern in its centre crowns the ensemble. Muqarnas, of Persian origin, were imported from the Orient and introduced in the Maghreb by the Almoravids, transmitted by the intermediaries of the Banu Hammad and the Andalusians, who both had close ties with the Fatimid caliphate.

The mihrâb with its finely sculpted plaster, decorated with vegetal and epigraphic motifs, recalls the Córdoban mihrâb. It opens out from a horseshoe arch placed in a rectangular frame, its two-tone keystones terminating in poly-lobed arch mouldings. Its niche, cut in the form of a polygon, is surmounted by a small dome with sixteen flutes. This type of cupola was already present in the Great Mosque of Kairouan in which the cupola ahead of the mihrâb presents twenty flutes. Just like the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the cupola preceding the mihrâb holds a small dome in its centre with alternating circular and triangular grooves. In Saragossa, we see small domes with six and nine flutes. The Tlemcen cupola is not, therefore, an Almarovid innovation; it did, however, crown the niche of the mihrâb for the first time. This disposition appears in three other monuments: the Baths of Teinturiers in Tlemcen where the cupola has sixteen flutes—as in the Great Mosque—the Qarawiyyîn in Fez, where we find cupolas with eight and ten flutes, and the Qubba of Barudiyyîn in Marrakesh, where the small central dome has eight flutes.

Built at a time when the architectural productions in Spain grew less grandiose due to the shift in power from Spain to the Maghreb, the Great Mosque of Tlemcen is a remarkable example of the perennial nature of Córdoban architecture with its particularly refined and innovative style of ornamentation. The particularities of the Great Mosque’s plan, and especially the fact that the Andalusian-styled ribbed cupola is so closely linked—interchangeable even—to the muqarnas corbelling give it an eminent place in this series of Muslim works of art.


 Bourouiba, R., L’art religieux musulman en Algérie, Alger : SNED, 1983.


Marçais, G., L’architecture musulmane d’occident, Tunisie, Algérie, Maroc, Espagne et Sicile, Paris : Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1957.


Marçais, G., Manuel d'Art Musulman, L'architecture Tunisie, Algérie, Maroc, Espagne et Sicile, Paris : A.Picard, 1926.


Marçais, G., Les monuments arabes de Tlemcen, Paris : A. Fontemoing, 1905.

Bargès, J.J.L, Tlemcen ancienne capitale du royaume de ce nom, Paris : Duprat, 1859.

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