Qantara Qantara

the Kutubīyah Mosque’s minaret

  • Name : the Kutubīyah Mosque’s minaret
  • Place : Marrakech, Morocco
  • Construction date/period : AD 1153
  • Construction materials : shale sandstone, brick
  • Architectural pattern : ceramics, paint
  • Dimensions : height 69.50m; length 12.80m

Next to the Kutubīyah Mosque’s prayer room stands an exceptional minaret, predating the Giralda of Sevilla and the Hasan tower in Rabat, for which it is definitely the prototype. The Kutubīyah minaret was commissioned by the Almohad caliph ‘Abd al-Mu’min (reigned 11301163) and finished by his grandson, al-Mansūr (reigned 11841199). The square-sectioned minaret is located in the south-eastern part of the edifice, and topped with a lantern, crowned with a gadrooned cupola. The two highest levels are crowned with merlons. Its central area is constituted of six superposed rooms enclosed by an inclined rectilinear ramp roofed with tunnel vaults that lead to groin vaults in the corners: this ingenious system was inspired by the famous ‘al-Manār’ dungeon at the Qal‘a des Banu-Hammad (Algeria), constructed at the beginning of the eleventh century.

The work was constructed in shale sandstone extracted from the Gueliz Mount in Marrakech. To ensure that the edifice was as light as possible, stones were mixed with bricks in the upper areas. The ensemble was made of stone and brick, which were originally covered in a layer of lime-based plaster decorated with false joints to hide the irregularities of the work (traces of this can still be seen).

The minaret’s decorations comprise the five registers. On each side there are panels with arches (horseshoe, and multi-lobed), leading to decorative motifs made up of multifoil interlaced arches on the surface. The free spaces between the carved decorations are adorned with paintings on yellow and red ochre plaster representing floral, geometric, and epigraphic motifs (simple and double palm leaves, fleurons, pine-cones, and short eulogies in kufic script). The bands that surround the upper parts of the tower and the lantern-turret are geometric compositions, made of white and blue-green ceramic squares that stand out starkly from the rest of the building.

The decorative principles of the Kutubīyah minaret, like that of the Giralda of Sevilla and the Hasan Tower in Rabat, are inspired by the ‘Abd al-Rahmān III minaret in Córdoba’s Great Mosque, whose form we are familiar with from the two bas reliefs dated from 1562-1571 (located above the door of Santa Catalina[1]). Indeed, the latter had paid particular attention to the decorations on the facades, and carved out decorative niches in them. It is also worth pointing out the influence of Hammādid architecture: apart from the ornamentation in vertical niches and carved panels that decorate the faces of the minaret of the Banu-Hammad Qal‘a Mosque, ceramics marquetry is also present.

The Kutubīyah minaret’s interior was decorated with great attention to detail. Several rooms are extended with domes; a conical dome in the first, and in the second, a ribbed dome standing on an octagon and four stalactite squinches; the fifth room has a dome in the shape of a truncated eight-sided pyramid resting on an octagon and corner squinches in a half groined vault. The last room, which was the most finely worked, is covered with a ribbed horseshoe arched dome on muqarnas squinches, whose base is octagonal. The third and fourth rooms are covered with a groin vault with horseshoe arches sitting on corner columns. Even though they are well inside the heart of the minaret, all these domes were very finely built, and demonstrate the quality of this architectural work. The variety of their forms recall the domes of the Bāb al-Mardum Mosque in Toledo, work which predates it (end of the tenth century), and underlines the close relation between the art of Spain and that of the Maghrib.

NOTE

[1] This minaret was built in the first half of the tenth century, and in the fifteenth century its stone covering was removed. In 1589, it was damaged by an earthquake and a hurricane, disappeared completely in the sixteenth century, and was replaced by a bell.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Basset, H.; Terrasse, H., ‘Sanctuaires et forteresses almohades’, in Hespéris, No. V, Paris: Institut des Hautes Études Moroccoaines/Larose, 1925, pp. 311376; VI, pp. 107270; VII, pp. 117171, 287345.

Cenival, P. de, ‘Marrâkushî’ in the Encyclopédie de l’Islam, vol. VI, new edition, Leyde/Paris: E. J. Brill/Maisonneuve & Larose, pp. 573582.

Creswell, K.A.C., The Muslim Architecture of Egypt, vol. I, Ikhshīds and Fātimids, New York: Hacker Art Books, 1978, pp. 65106.

Deverdun, G., Marrakech des origines à 1912, Rabat: Techniques Nord Africaines, 1959.

Golvin, L., Essai sur l’architecture religieuse musulmane, l’art hispano-musulman, vol .4,  Paris: Klincksieck, 1979.

Hassar-Bensliman, J., et al., ‘Tinmal 1981, fouille de la mosque almohade’, in Bulletin  d’Archéologie  Moroccoaine, Vol. XIV, 19811982, pp. 277312.

Marçais, G., l’Architecture musulmane d’Occident, Paris: Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1954.

Meunié, J., Recherches archéologiques à Marrakech, Paris: Arts et Métiers Graphiques, 1952.



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