'Ubbad (mosque, madrasa and tomb of Abu Madyan or Sidi Bumadyan)
The village of al-'Ubbad is situated 2 km southeast of Tlemcen. It is made up of two districts: Al-'Ubbad al-Fouqui (upper al-'Ubbad, which is the actual al-'Ubbad), and al-'Ubbad al-Sufli (lower al-'Ubbad), which today has been completely absorbed into the expanded town of Tlemcen, Al-'Ubbad, Tlemcen, Algeria
Hegira 739 / AD 1339
Sultan Abu al-Hasan.
The village of al-'Ubbad is situated approximately 2 km to the southeast of Tlemcen. At the end of a precipitous path, the covered gateway, which forms part of the Sidi Boumadyan (Abu Madyan) mosque and tomb site, leads to a courtyard paved with marble. The entrance to the tomb is on the left; in front stands the imposing entrance of the mosque.
The mosque was built in AH 739 / AD 1339 on a rectangular layout of 30 m x 18 m. The monumental entrance porch, under which spans an archway 7 m in height, shelters a flight of stairs that leads to the landing in front of the mosque's actual door. This door consists of two panels of cedarwood covered in chiselled and engraved bronze leaf. The arch on the façade of the porch is framed by an enamel composition of arabesques in four colours – white, brown, green and yellow – which sits within a rectangular framework of trefoil-scalloped brickwork incrusted in enamel and green fillets. An epigraphic frieze, dedicated to Sultan Abu al-Hasan, sits above this rectangular framework.
The square courtyard is enclosed by the archway of the prayer hall that faces the main entrance, and on either side of this by two elevated galleries (reserved for women); along each of its other sides it is bordered by a balata (nave). An attractive onyx basin sits at the centre of this courtyard for small ablutions.
The prayer hall includes five naves perpendicular to the qibla wall which are separated by semi-circular pointed arches that rest on square or dog-toothed bases. The naves are enhanced by plaster tunnel vaults that are decorated in geometric motifs, covered by a double sloping roman-tiled roof.
The arch of the mihrab, slightly semi-circular, sits within a framework composed of three bands (two vertical and one horizontal) with epigraphic decoration. These bands, and the false keystones that underline the arch, tightly enclose cornerstones that feature floral tracery. The whole decoration is made of colour-enhanced stucco, and in particular highlights the contrast between the alternating keystones.
The sides of the hexagonal niche consist of rectangular panels without any decoration; these are surmounted by small arches that pierce through the base of a stalactite cupola.
The minaret, 27.5 m in height, is situated on the right as one enters the mosque. Its decoration more or less blends in with the whole building, in particular its diamond-patterned sections of wall, and the enamelled mosaic that crowns it.
The tomb of Sidi Boumadyan is found at a lower level than its courtyard entrance. One descends steps in order to reach a small square courtyard surrounded by galleries of horseshoe arches held up by onyx columns. The two bands on either side of the qubba door carry an inscription in Andalusian Maghrebi. The qubba, which houses the tomb that is separated off by a woodwork screen, is a square construction surmounted by a dome that is covered by a four-slope roman-tiled roof.
The madrasa of Sidi Boumadyan was built on the order of Sultan Abu al-Hasan eight years after the construction of the mosque. The building is arranged around a courtyard bordered by four galleries that shelter the entrance to the cells. On the same axis as the entrance, across the courtyard, is the large square room, crowned with a painted wooden dome, that serves both as a teaching hall and prayer hall, with its mihrab entrenched into the back wall.
The historian Ibn Khaldun stayed in this madrasa, and would have taught there.
This architectural complex consists of a mosque, madrasa and the tomb of Abu Madyan (Sidi Boumadyan). A monumental cedarwood gateway, covered with carved bronze leaves, framed by coloured zellij (tiles) and crowned with a frieze, opens out onto a square courtyard and the five-nave mosque. The tomb is to be found below in the qubba, a square room with a domed ceiling. The madrasa is built around a square courtyard surrounded by galleries. The largest room serves as a prayer room and classroom.
Through an inscription on the façade of the porch that eulogises Sultan Abu al-Hasan.
Marçais, G., Tlemcen, 'Les villes d'art célèbres' (collection), Paris, 1950; Blida, 2004.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954.
Ali Lafer "'Ubbad (mosque, madrasa and tomb of Abu Madyan or Sidi Bumadyan)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monuments;ISL;dz;Mon01;7;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 07