Name of Monument:

Great Mosque at Sfax

Location:

Sfax, Tunisia

Date of Monument:

Hegira 235 / AD 850

Architect(s) / master-builder(s):

Haj Saïd al-Qatti (amine of the masons) and Tahar al-Manif.

Period / Dynasty:

Aghlabid, Zirid, Husaynid

Patron(s):

Ali ibn Salim, foster-brother of the great Kairouanese judge Sahnun ibn Saïd (AH 240 / AD 854).

History:

The mosque was embellished during the Zirid era. It was totally reworked, probably in the 6th / 12th century before being restored to its original state in the 12th / 18th century.

Description:

The mosque stands right at the heart of the medina and is loosely rectangular in shape. The four walls are surrounded by suqs. The decoration of the facade is harmonious and Eastern in style. The spandrels of the alternating doors and windows are encircled by arches with triple curves. Cut into these are niches in the form of mihrabs. The decorative motifs are typical of the Ifriqiyan repertoire of the Fatimo-Zirid era and can be found in several AH 4th-century monuments (AD 10th century), an example of which is the Great Mosque at Mahdiyya. Entering the mosque by the side door to the north, one finds oneself in a small courtyard surrounded on four sides by cruciform pillars supporting pointed horseshoe arches. Secondary columns flanking the pillars add a weighty elegance to the ensemble. The galleries are covered using groin vaulting separated by horseshoe beams. The qibla gallery has a prominent porch topped with a dome built onto a square base carved with niches in its four corners.
The minaret rises from the northwest corner. Constructed of cut stone on a square base, it consists of two superposed towers topped by a lantern. Fifteen meters high, it reminds one of the minaret of the Great Mosque at Kairouan, but has a more refined façade, comprising a series of discs surmounted by some splendid floral kufic script featuring quarry stones decorated with five-lobed floral motifs. Close examination has revealed that the original Aghlabid minaret was enclosed by sculpted masonry added during the Fatimo-Zirid era. Ten doorways lead from the courtyard into the prayer hall, which is built on a very unusual square floor-plan. The western section was built out onto a part of the original courtyard.
The prayer hall has nine naves and is covered by groin vaulting supported by horseshoe arches. These arches have both horizontal and vertical stripes and rest on columns with ancient capitals. True to the Kairouanese manner, the central nave is wider than the others. However, there is a dome, similar to the one in the courtyard, situated off-centre in the extension of the nave and above the mihrab in the 6th-/ 12th-century prayer hall.
The current AH 12th-century mihrab (AD 18th) is endowed with an inscription running over round-bottomed niches in the form of mihrabs.

View Short Description

Standing in the centre of the medina, this mosque has been at the heart of the Sfax urban and religious centre since its construction. Surrounded by suqs, it was the only sanctuary to hold Friday prayers up until the 19th century. The architecture of the original Aghlabid mosque was substantially modified under the Zirids and the Ottomans. The Great Mosque of Sfax differs from other Ifriqiyan mosques in its decoration, which consists of inscriptions, geometric patterns and plant motifs. Having been exposed to a variety of influences, its now boasts some strikingly original elements.

How Monument was dated:

Historical and literary sources, for example Tijani and the Sfaxian historian Ibn Magdish, attribute the founding of the mosque to Ali ibn Salim. Two inscriptions on the eastern parts dating from 378 / 988 and 478 / 1085 bear witness to the works carried out along the façade. Furthermore, a poetic inscription engraved on the current mihrab states the name of its builder and the date 1172 / 1759.

Selected bibliography:

Golvin, L., Essai sur l'architecture religieuse musulmane, t.3, Paris, 1974, pp.162 ff.
Marçais G. et Golvin, L., La Grande Mosquee de Sfax, Tunis, 1960.
Ifriqiya: Thirteen centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.212–14.

Citation of this web page:

Saloua Zangar "Great Mosque at Sfax" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;isl;tn;mon01;18;en

Prepared by: Saloua ZangarSaloua Zangar

Saloua Khaddar Zangar est née en 1953 à Nabeul, titulaire d'une maîtrise d'histoire de l'Université de Tunis, S. Zangar a obtenu son doctorat en histoire moderne et contemporaine à l'Université de Bordeaux III.
Spécialiste de l'histoire du mouvement national tunisien, elle a été directeur du Centre d'histoire du mouvement national de 1980 à 1982. Directeur de recherche, responsable des publications à l'Institut national du patrimoine depuis 1992, elle est nommée en mars 2006 directeur du département Coopération, programmation, formation et publications de l'INP.
Auteur de divers articles et contributions à des ouvrages sur l'histoire du monde arabo-musulman au lendemain de la Première Guerre mondiale et de la Tunisie à l'époque coloniale, elle a publié notamment La Presse française et le monde arabo-musulman en 1920 (1982), Le cap Bon passé et présent (1993), La femme tunisienne à travers les âges (1997), La femme tunisienne entre hier et aujourd'hui (2002). Elle participe également à un site Web et à un CD sur la femme tunisienne (2005).

MWNF Working Number: TN 18

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 Artistic Introduction

 Timeline for this item

Islamic Dynasties / Period

Aghlabids

Turks in Tunisia

Zirids


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