Mulay Idris Mausoleum
Fez (Old Town medina), Morocco
Hegira 3rd–15th centuries / AD 9th–20th centuries
Restoration work was overseen by the mufti of Fez, al-Haj al-Mubarak, in AH 1308 / AD 1890.
Idrisid; Marinid; Alawid
Mulay Idris II (r. AH 188–213 / AD 803–29). In AH 1240 / AD 1824, Sultan Mulay ‘Abd Al-Rahman built a new mosque attached to the mausoleum.
At the centre of the medina, the mosque that contains the tomb of Idris II, the founder of Fez, and that is commonly known as Mulay Idris zawiya is, with the Qarawiyyin, the town's most famous and most frequently visited monument. It is surrounded by a network of alleyways that lead to the suqs, madrasas and entrance gateways to the town.
The mausoleum is part of an urban complex that includes:
- Dar al-Qaytun (House of the Tent), the first accommodation taken by Mulay Idris the father when construction of the town first began;
- Al-'Ashraf mosque (Mosque of the Nobles), where the founder of the town would pray;
- The ablutions fountain.
This complex was known as haram (prohibited).
The mausoleum itself is a vast and beautiful mosque erected at the time the town was founded. Friday prayers were taken there.
The building has known many alterations, restorations and extensions, particularly under the Marinids, Wattasids, Sa'dids and 'Alawids.
The mausoleum lost some of its influence with the construction of the Qarawiyyin in the AH 3rd / AD 9th century, to where Friday prayers were transferred. Nonetheless the building retained its original layout and its structural and architectural elements until the AH 8th / AD 14th century. In AH 707 / AD 1308, under the Marinids, it was reconstructed by the Idrisid shurfa, descendants of Idris II, at the initiative of the mufti of Fez, al-Haj al-Mubarak.
During restoration work on the mosque in the AH 9th / AD 15th century, the Wattasids discovered the sarcophagus of Idris II in AH 840 / AD 1437. This precious relic was legally recognised by contemporary scholars (alim) and theologians.
The Mulay Idris mausoleum became a place of pilgrimage and many sovereigns expanded and embellished the sanctuary and the mosque, but the most important alterations were not made until the reign of Mulay Isma'il (AH 1083–1140 / AD 1672–1727). The Sultan endowed the building with a large green pyramid dome above the Idrisid tomb, covered with a carved wood canopy encrusted with copper and gold and surrounded by numerous columns of white and black marble. The sahn (courtyard) is decorated with a magnificent fountain. A large beautiful polychrome minaret, the tallest in the whole medina, was also constructed. Legend and chroniclers have it that the work was undertaken by volunteers.
Later, Sultan Mulay 'Abd Al-Rahman took a particular interest in the mausoleum. He founded a new mosque there in AH 1240 / AD 1824 on the site of the Dar al-Qaytun.
The ornamental repertoire of the mosque is varied and is to be found in the interior for the most part. Only a few decorative elements appear on the exterior: on the central arch of the portal, among a pretty arrangement of shimmering polychrome lines, an inscription celebrates the glory of Allah and of the profit.
Most of the decoration that visitors can see on the outside was restored by King Muhammad V after 1956.
This mausoleum contains the tomb of Idris II, the town's patron. The original mosque, built at the time the town was founded in the AH 2nd / AD 8th century, was converted into a mausoleum in the 9th / 15th century following the discovery of the tomb of Mulay Idris in its foundations. It is still a place of prayer, rites and customs today. Restored and developed by different Moroccan dynasties, it has a richly decorated vestibule, lamps and chandeliers, and zellij-paved floors, making it one of the most beautiful monuments in Fez. This important cultural centre is held in high esteem by all of Morocco.
Ibn al-Qadi's Jadwat provides various different dates for its foundation, restoration and extension to Sa'did times. Later dates are provided in Ibn Zaydan's Ithaf.
Al-Jaznai, A., Jana Zahrat al-Aas [Myrtle Flower] (in Arabic), Rabat, 1967.
Ibn al-Qadi, A., Jadwat al-Iqtibaas (in Arabic), Rabat, 1967.
Terrasse, H., Villes impériales du Maroc, Grenoble, 1937.
Andalusian Morocco: A Discovery in Living Art, pp.100–1.
Mohamed Mezzine "Mulay Idris Mausoleum" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;isl;ma;mon01;20;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
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: MO 27
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