Qantara Qantara

The Almoravid Qubba (kiosk)

  • Title/name : The Almoravid Qubba (kiosk)
  • Production place : Marrakech medina, Morocco
  • Date / period : During the reign of the Almoravid king ‘Ali Ibn Yūsuf (AD 1106-1142)
  • Materials and techniques : stone, baked brick, lime mortar, stucco, and wood
  • Dimensions : 7.30m x 7.35m x 5.35m x 5.45m
  • Conservation place : in-situ

This building[1] is the only surviving example of Almoravid religious architecture at Marrakech. In fact, the Almohads, as a way of purifying the city, demolished all their predecessors’ architectural constructions. Rediscovered during the 1948 archaeological digs by J. Meunié and H. Terrasse, the monument lies on the southern side of Ibn Yūsuf square, opposite the eponymous mosque. This building was undoubtedly part of an architectural ensemble that depended on the emir ‘Ali Ibn Yūsuf’s Mosque, which was destroyed when the Almohads captured the city in 1130. The kufic script adorning the base of the dome has been smashed, and the few words that can still be deciphered pay homage to the founding sultan ‘Ali Ibn Yūsuf, which confirms the monument’s date as belonging to the Almoravid era.

Rectangular in plan, and surrounded by four pillars, this monument is topped by a dome whose exterior has carved decorations of arches crowned with chevron that contain heptagonal stars. The decorations are like those on the dome of the al-Qarawīyīn Mosque in Fez (859–1135) or of the Qahwat al-Qubba Mosque in Sousse (eleventh to twelfth centuries)[2]. Stepped crenellation surrounds the dome. The northern and southern entrances are fitted with two pointed arches, and poly-lobed arches adorn the western and eastern entrances. The upper parts are pierced with openings adorned with arches of various shapes. Similar uses can be observed in the variety of the arches and the decorations in the Bāb al-Mardum Mosque at Toledo, whose floor plan is directly related. The Toledan building has a different elevation, which is crowned with nine domes; the one in the north corner, although less complex, is very similar to that at Marrakech[3].

The Qubba’s interior is crowned with a ribbed dome, whose stucco decorations are reminiscent of caliphal Andalusian art. Large, poly-lobed horseshoe arches sit directly on the square-based cornice that constitutes the dome’s skeleton. They cross with one another, transmitting the square plan into an octagonal one whose pendentives are richly decorated with floral patterns incised around a strongly projecting scallop. This motif was very common in classical Antiquity and echoes the rich classical influences of Tingitan Mauritania[4]. In the corners the empty spaces are covered with muqarnas arches. These decorative elements originated in Iran and were probably transmitted to Cairo in the Fātimid era, then to the Muslim West[5].

A drum serves as a transition between the large arches and the small terminal dome (in Andalusian tradition) that completes the ensemble. This octagonal level is made up of small recticurvilinear arches, which seem to have been an Egypt inspiration. They can also be seen in the Great Mosque at Tlemcen (end of the eleventh to the beginning of the twelfth century), in Cairo in the shrine of Sayyida ‘Ātika (1100–1120), and in Spain in the Aljaferia at Zaragoza (second half of the sixteenth century).

This building’s dome-centred plan is typical of funerary buildings. However, archaeological digs have revealed that a basin existed in the centre of the kiosk and a water supply that dates back to the building’s construction. The nearby discovery of an ablutions complex linked to the great mosque, dating from the reign of ‘Ali ibn Yūsuf, seems to confirm that this Qubba was part of it and was a place dedicated to the ablutions of the worshippers. 

This building is part of the Córdoban tradition that prevailed at the beginning of Hispano-Maghrebian art in Fez, Tlemcen, Algiers, and Marrakech, although Moroccan vestiges that attest to this artistic exchange are rare.

NOTE

[1] Also known as Qubbat al-Baruddiyyin or Qubbat al-Buāddiyyin. In Islam, the term qubba is generally attributed to a religious funerary monument whose plan is centred under a cupola. It is, however used to describe a monument with a similar layout but different functions, like a kiosk in a garden or a mosque.

[2] Golvin, p. 125.

[3] This edifice became the Church of Cristo de la Luz, and is dated with an inscription reading 999, attributed by L. Golvin to the Toledan school. The edifice has a plan that is very common in the Muslim world, which can be found from Spain to Afghanistan. The Almoravids unified a part of Spain under their rule from 1086 (Toledo remained in the hands of the Christians).

[4] The ancient name of Morocco in the Roman era

[5] This can be seen at Al-Qayrawān, Bougie, the Qa’la of Bani-Hammad, Tlemcen, and Fez.

BIBLIOGRAPHY RELATED TO THE ITEM

Deverdun, G., Marrakech des origines à 1912, 2 tomes. Rabat: Techniques nord-africaines, 1959, pp. 105-106.

Marçais, G., L’architecture musulmane d’occident, Paris: Arts et métiers graphiques, 1954.

Meunié, J.; Terrasse, H., Nouvelles recherches archéologiques à Marrakech, Paris: I.H.E.M, Arts et métiers graphiques, 1952.

Sites et monuments de Marrakech, Direction du patrimoine culturel, Rabat, 1999.

Terrasse, M., L’architecture hispano-maghrébine et la naissance d’un nouvel art Moroccoain à l’āge des Mérinides, state doctoral thesis, under the direction of J. Theight Sourdel, Paris, 1979.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bosworth, C.E., Les dynasties musulmanes, Arles: Sindbad/ Actes Sud, 1996, pp. 57–60.

Hill, D.; Golvin, L., Islamic Architecture in North Africa, London: Faber and Faber, 1976, pp. 124–125, ill. pl. 394 to 396 and V.

Parker, R., A Practical Guide to Islamic Monuments in Morocco, Virginia: Baraca Press, 1981, pp. 58–59, ill. 10 to 12.

Pérez Higuera, T., ‘Mezquita de Bab Al-Mardum o del cristo de la luz’, in Mezquita de Bab al-Mardum: Cristo de la Luz: Toledo 999-1999, (exhibition catalogue, Toledo, provincial historical archives room, 2000], Toledo: Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-la Mancha, 1999, pp. 15–25.



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