Hegira 6th century / AD 12th century
‘Ali Ibn Yusuf (r. AH 500–37 / AD 1106–43).
Abu al-Hasan 'Ali Ibn Yusuf, the second Almoravid king, born of a Christian mother, had spent more of his life in Andalusia than in Morocco when he acceded to the throne at the age of 23. It is not surprising that he was responsible not only for the introduction of Andalusian art and culture to Morocco, but also for a veritable symbiosis between the countries either side of the Straits that constituted his empire. He was also a great patron and a great builder, although sadly most of his architectural works were destroyed by the Almohads, who succeeded the Almoravids in the AH mid-6th / AD mid-12th century.
One of the severely damaged monuments to have survived is the Koubba (qubba - domed pavilion) which houses an ablutions basin and is connected to the 'Ali Ibn Yusuf mosque mentioned by all chroniclers but now lost.
This Koubba, which historians of Muslim art qualify as 'extraordinary', rises in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by 19 public latrines. Buried under several metres of earth and ash, it was not excavated until 1952–3.
It is rectangular (7.3 m x 5.5 m) and has two distinct storeys separated at a height of about 5 m by a slightly projecting smooth narrowed band:
- the first storey, whose corners consist of four strong supports and whose façades have two twin-lobed horseshoe arches on each of the larger sides and a lobed arch on each of the smaller sides;
- a second storey that is finished with a smooth band consisting of stepped merlons. The façades on this level have no fewer than 16 differently shaped arches: pointed horseshoe, curvilinear, lobed (five on each of the larger sides and three on each of the smaller sides).
The building is crowned with a brick dome decorated with interlaced arcatures (blind arcades) and chevrons around a seven-pointed star.
The upper apertures enable light into the upper storey, where the rectangular shape of the ground floor becomes square with semi-circular arches.
The interior decoration, almost completely absent in the lower part of the building, opens out as the building rises. This decoration, contrasting but continuous, brings together geometric, vegetal and epigraphic themes.
Geometric decoration is visible on the arches and ribs of the dome, on the knotwork band that crowns the epigraphic cornice and on the muqarnas (honeycomb-work) squinches.
The floral decoration, visible on the vast extended panels of the dome and the spandrels, is so rich, so dense and so skilfully executed that it gives an impressive sensation of an outpouring of plant forms.
The epigraphic decoration, which covers the frames and borders, is noteworthy for the fact that the foundation inscription is the oldest cursive inscription in North Africa.
All of these factors explain how, despite the vicissitudes that it has suffered, the Koubba at Marrakesh represents Almoravid art at its peak: inspired and generous
One of the few Almoravid monuments spared by the Almohads was this qubba (cupola) of the ablutions block attached to a Marrakesh mosque that has since disappeared.
Measuring 7.3 m by 5.5 m, it is split into two levels separated at a height of some 5 m by a plain protruding band. The first level opens out through six arches, while the second has 16 to light the upper part, where the rectangular plan of the ground floor becomes a square plan above the widthways arches. Remarkably rich and dense, the decoration of the eight-lobed cupola gives the impression of an outpouring of plant forms.
An inscription engraved in the plaster runs around the entire building at 5 m from the ground. It has been smashed, probably by the Almohads when they took Marrakesh. What remains is an emphatic homage to 'Ali Ibn Yusuf, the patron of the building. The foundation date is also inscribed, although only some of it is legible: 'yawm al arbi'a' (the last day of the month of Rabi I). The year is missing, but knowing that the Koubba was an annex to the mosque where 'Ali Ibn Yusuf met Yahya Ibn Tumart, the Almohads' guide, in AH 514 / 1120, it is clear that the two buildings were built between the date when 'Ali ibn Yusuf was crowned and the date of this meeting. The last day of Rabi occurred twice during this period: in 503 / 1109 and in 511 / 1117. This latter seems the most plausible if we consider that the construction of the mosque and its annexes (qubba, fountain, water tank and hammam) could not have been finished in just three years from the time 'Ali Ibn Yusuf acceded to the throne.
Deverdun, G., Marrakech, des origines à 1912, Rabat, 1959, p.105.
Deverdun, G., Inscriptions arabes de Marrakech, Rabat, 1956, pp.26–30.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954, p.200.
Meunié, J. et Terrasse, H., Nouvelles recherches archéologiques à Marrakech, Paris, 1957.
Kamal Lakhdar "Almoravid Koubba" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;3;en
Prepared by: Kamal LakhdarKamal Lakhdar
Linguiste et sociologue de formation, c'est en autodidacte que Kamal Lakhdar s'est adonné aux études d'histoire du Maroc et du monde arabo-musulman, en axant tout spécialement ses recherches sur l'histoire de Rabat.
Sa carrière de haut fonctionnaire l'a conduit à occuper des fonctions de premier plan auprès de différents ministères. Il a notamment été membre du cabinet du ministre de l'Enseignement supérieur, conseiller du ministre des Finances, conseiller du ministre du Commerce et de l'Industrie, directeur de cabinet du ministre du Tourisme, chargé de mission auprès du Premier ministre et directeur de cabinet du Premier ministre.
Parallèlement, Kamal Lakhdar mène des activités de journaliste et d'artiste peintre – il a d'ailleurs été membre du Conseil supérieur de la Culture.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: MO 04
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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