Sidi ‘Uqba (mosque, minaret and tomb)
The site of Sidi ‘Uqba is located approximately 6 km south of Tehouda and abut 20 km east of Biskra, on the Khengat Sidi Nadji road, Sidi ‘Uqba, Biskra, Algeria
Hegira 67–416 / AD 686–1025
‘Uqba ibn Nafi, one of the Prophet's companions and governor of Ifriqiya, met his death during a battle against Koceïla and his troops, who were waiting for him near Tehouda on his return from a victorious expedition that had led him as far as the Atlantic. The Sidi ‘Uqba mosque was built around ‘Uqba ibn Nafi's tomb.
The sanctuary and the mosque demonstrated great simplicity, all the architectural elements having been covered over in white-washed mortar; not a single expensive, ornate or precious material was used for the construction. The mosque's layout is not dissimilar to that of the most ancient mosques, notably the very first one built by the Prophet himself, as is demonstrated by the parallel positioning of the bays to the qibla wall. The column bases were linked together by a raised section of floor, about 10 cm, that defined the area required for the aligned prostration of worshippers. The columns, some of which are palm-tree trunks covered in white-washed mortar, are crowned with capitals moulded from white-washed mortar, and support arches from which all decoration is absent. Highlighted by an arch – which is decorated with stucco featuring simple geometric motifs and irregular tracery – the mihrab is crowned by a semi-circular dome with radiating fluting. The capitals are also fluted, and are thus suggestive of highly stylised palm trees. Two domes emerge from the terrace that covers the prayer hall; one over the tomb, the other over the space in front of the mihrab.
The famous two-leafed door, made of carved cedarwood, that guards the access to the prayer hall from one of the three entrances from the side courtyard, was moved to the opposite wall during development work undertaken in the mosque in 1969–70. Renovation work and work involving the 'integration' of the mosque into an enormous cultural complex were carried out over the last few years under the claim of endowing the sanctuary and mosque with some 'gloss': in fact, this work has totally defaced the spirit of the place.
The sanctuary and the mosque are both very simple. The mosque, whose bays run parallel to the qibla wall, are reminiscent of the most ancient mosques. The columns, some of which are palm trunks covered with lime mortar, are crowned with capitals supporting plain arches. The mihrab has a half-dome vault and is framed by an arch decorated with simple geometric motifs in stucco. Two domes cover the tomb and the space in front of the mihrab. The famous carved cedarwood door has survived.
Through the gathering of historical sources and stylistic analysis, G. Marçais offers 67 / 686 and 416 / 1025 as dates:
67 / 686 for construction of the tomb; comparing the letters of the inscription on the tomb with those of Kairouanese epitaphs dated to around 416 / 1025 would place the 'renewing of the sanctuary' to around the same time. Other inscriptions also exist: on the wall of the sanctuary, a wooden plank carrying an inscription sculpted in relief offers the date of 1215 / 1800; similarly, the mosque's mihrab is dated to 1214 / 1789. According to Captain H. Simon in his “Notes sur le mausolée de Sidi Okba” (Revue africaine, 1909, pl. III), these dates refer to expansions or repairs.
Blanchet, P., La porte de Sidi Okba, Paris, 1900.
Bourouiba, R., Apports de l'Algérie à l'architecture arabo-islamique, Algiers, 1986.
Bourouiba, R., L'art religieux musulman en Algérie, Algiers, 1981.
Ministère de l'information et de la culture, Les mosquées en Algérie, Algiers, 1974.
Ali Lafer "Sidi ‘Uqba (mosque, minaret and tomb)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;isl;dz;mon01;15;en
Prepared by: Ali LaferAli Lafer
Architecte diplômé de l'École nationale d'architecture et des beaux-arts d'Alger, stagiaire du Centre international pour la conservation et la restauration des biens culturels (ICCROM) à Rome, Ali Lafer a été architecte en chef des Monuments au ministère de la Culture pendant son service civil. Directeur de l'Atelier Casbah chargé des études d'aménagement de la médina d'Alger, il a également enseigné au cours de Tunis pour la formation d'architectes du patrimoine maghrébin. Membre fondateur de l'association “Les amis du Tassili”, il est aussi chercheur dans les domaines de la numérisation de la documentation graphique et du relevé photogrammétrique.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Maria Vlotides
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: AL 16