Hegira 11th–12th centuries / AD 17th–18th centuries
According to chroniclers, the monument owes its name to its architect, a converted Christian (‘alj), probably a Spaniard who took the name ‘al-Mansur’. The work was overseen by the caid Jilali.
Sultan Mulay Isma‘il (r. AH 1083–1140 / AD 1672–1727), completed by his son ‘Abdallah (r. between AH 1140 and 1171 / AD 1728 and 1757).
Having decided to make the town of Meknès the capital of his kingdom, Mulay Isma'il dedicated himself throughout his 45-year reign to the construction of 40 km of bastions and walls, monumental gateways, granaries, enormous stables, gardens and large lakes.
Bab Mansur al-'Alaj, which is one of Mulay Isma'il's last projects, is the most famous of the 20 gateways that provide access to the royal city. Its architecture is reminiscent of Andalusia. It is distinctive from other gateways in the country because of the originality of its layout, the scale of its structures and its architectural elements, the diversity of the materials used and the density and abundance of its ornamentation.
About 16 m high, Bab Mansur occupies a vast area and dominates the Place Lahdim. The outer façade of this extremely complex building is made up of a central opening consisting of a semi-circular arch, 8 m high, with a slight horseshoe shape. It is flanked by two projecting square towers that open on to loggias, which in turn are flanked by two narrower recesses consisting of two tall white marble columns most probably originating from the Roman ruins of Volubilis, as the shafts and composite capitals were of Italian origin while the bases were made of local stone. The gateway is richly decorated with earthenware, stucco, marble and wood, all sculpted with geometric (diamonds, festoons) or floral (foliage, arabesques) motifs and inscriptions in large black cursive characters.
The gateway is crowned with a series of spaced merlons. With no decorative motifs, the interior façade of the gateway consists of a slightly pointed horseshoe arch set within a simple rectangle.
Bab Mansur has fulfilled a number of functions. The edifice was home to the tribunal of the pasha (governor) of the town, who held meetings there to settle disputes and who came there to lunch with military leaders after Friday prayers.
Religious (mussem – patronal) and military ceremonies were also held in front of Bab Mansur, and this tradition has survived to the present day.
Bab Mansur al-'Alj is an imposing gateway started by Mulay Isma'il in the AH 12th / AD 18th century and completed by his son.
Its proportions are as remarkable as the originality of its design and richness of its ornamentation, dominated by interlacing designs and marble from al-Mansur's Badi Palace in Marrakesh, which was destroyed by Mulay Isma'il.
It was used in the 13th / 19th century as a meeting place by military chiefs and notables, as the seat of the town's pasha tribunal and then as an exhibition centre. Religious and military ceremonies were also held at the monument.
There is a large inscription in cursive characters on the upper part of the building indicating that it was finished in 1143 / 1731–2.
Brunot, D., Histoire du règne de Moulay Ismaïl, roy du Maroc, Fès, Tafilalet, Sousse, Rouen, 1714.
Mouette, G., Relation de la captivité de S. Mouette dans les royaumes de Fès et du Maroc, Paris, 1682.
Andalusian Morocco: A Discovery in Living Art, pp.74–5.
Mohamed Mezzine "Bab Mansur" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;29;en
Prepared by: Mohamed MezzineMohamed Mezzine
Mohamed Mezzine is a heritage historian and the director of an established graduate program at the university of Fes on the history, preservation and restoration of architectural heritage in ancient (Moroccan) cities. He studied at University Mohamed V (Rabat) and obtained a Doctorat d'Etat in history from the University of Paris (7). Pr. Mezzine has been a visiting lecturer at the Universities of Metz, Tours (URBAMA) and Aix-en-Provence. He has likewise co-directed a number of joint research heritage projects involving French and Spanish academics. He has authored books and articles on the architectural heritage of the Islamic world including Fès médiévale, ed. Mohamed Mezzine (Paris : Ed. Autrement, 1992) ; “Political Power and Socio-Religious Networks in 16th-Century Fes,” in Islamic Urbanism in Human History: Political Power and Social Networks, ed. Tsugitaka Sato (London: Kegan Publ. de la Faculté des Lettres Sais-Fès, 2003). Pr. Mezzine is also a member of the national “Commission for the Preservation of Fes.”
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
MWNF Working Number: MO 38