Qantara Qantara

Saadian tombs

  • Name : Saadian tombs
  • Place : Medina of Marrakech, Morocco
  • Construction date/period : 1557
  • Construction materials : Stone, fired brick, cob, marble, ceramics, stucco
  • Dimensions : 1st ensemble: oratory: 8.60m x 12.80m; central room: 9.80m x 12m; room with three niches: 11m x 3m. 2nd ensemble: qubba: 4.80m x 4.80m; rectangular room: 9.80m x 6m; loggia: 4m x 2m.

The Saadian tombs[1] are located north of the Almohad qasaba in Marrakech. This admirable funerary complex was discovered in 1917 by the fine arts and historic monuments service. This necropolis of the Saadian royal family used to be accessed by a door that communicated with the nearby mosque founded by Ya‘qūb al-Mansūr. Since 1917, the necropolis is reached down a long corridor in the south-west corner that leads to an open-air space with a cemetery and a garden, bordered to the east and the south by an interior wall flanked with towers.

The heart of this necropolis was built by the sultan ‘Abdallāh al-Ghālib in 1557 to house the tomb of his father, Muhammad Shaykh, the founder of the dynasty. His son built a qubba[2] where he was buried in 1574. The sultan Ahmad al-Mansūr Dahbī (reigned 1578–1603) buried his father there, his mother Lalla Mass'uda in 1591, and his brother, and undertook extension and refurbishment works. He too was buried there, along with several of his heirs and members of the Saadian family.

The necropolis is composed of two architectural ensembles. The first has three rooms. It opens with an oratory with three naves, in which tombs were added in the eighteenth century. A mihrāb made from a pentagonal niche is crowned with a pointed horseshoe arch that sits on four grey-marble half columns, framed by four similar columns and topped with a small muqarnas dome.

The central room, known as that ‘of the twelve columns’ is one of the finest rooms in this group. A dome sits on four groups of three Carrara marble columns that support a carved-wood ceiling, decorated with large muqarnas pointed semi-circular arches, whose arrangement is reminiscent of the eastern pavilion of the Qarawīyyīn[3], which was probably contemporary. The most luxurious part of this room contains the remains of the builder of this funerary ensemble— Ahmad al-Mansūr, as well as his son Zidane, along with the remains of his immediate descendants.

This first ensemble terminates in a room with three niches covered by a series of ceilings made from cedarwood. On two of the four existing tombstones, one can read commemorative inscriptions on the tombs of ‘Abdallāh al-Ghālib and his father Muhammad Shaykh.

The second ensemble—called qubba Lalla Mass’uda—is reached through an alley that crosses the open-air cemetery. The first room, in which her tomb lies, constitutes the initial core of the necropolis. Under the reign of Ahmad al-Mansūr, it was furnished in the southern part with a large room with a cedarwood ceiling and unfinished decorations; and two loggias to the east and the west, whose porticos are each supported by two white marble columns topped with muqarnas brackets and cedarwood lintels.

The origins and sources of inspiration of this funerary complex would seem to lie in the necropolises of earlier royal families, particularly those of the Marinids[4] at Fez and Challa. The stucco and ceramic decorations (ceramic mosaics, excised glazed ceramics), the cedarwood ceilings and the carving work throughout this necropolis are related to Hispano-Maghrebian productions from earlier centuries—especially the Nasrid productions in the Alhambra at Granada where the muqarnas, decorative elements from Iran, are everywhere. The wall decorations contain compositions also seen in Marinid work. Through these sumptuous works, Saadian art took on the Andalusian Moroccan traditions.


[1] The Sa’dīs or Saadians (1525–1659) belonged to the Sharif dynasty that has been the royal family in Morocco since AD 1525. The Saadian ancestry is said to go back to the grandson of al-Hasan (grandson of Muhammad), Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya.

[2] In Islam, the name qubba generally designates a monument whose plan is centred under a funerary dome, and it is sometimes used to describe a monument with a similar plan but with different functions, like a kiosk in a garden.

[3] The Qarawīyyīn Mosque in Fez went through several construction phases: one in 859, then in 956, and a major extension in 1135. The courtyard pavilions date from the Saadian era (sixteenth century). It also underwent refurbishment and restoration works during the Alaouite era.

[4] Dynasty that reigned in Morocco and over part of the Maghrib between the 1269 and 1465. They were based in Morocco with Fez as their capital, and waged a holy war in Andalusia.


Deverdun, G., Marrakech des origines à 1912, 2 tomes, Rabat, 1959, Edition Techniques nord-africaines.

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

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

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


Bosworth, C.E., Les dynasties musulmanes, Arles, 1996, Sindbad, Actes Sud, p.61-63, 68-71.

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

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