Beside the valley of the Bou Regreg 2 km from the town centre, Rabat, Morocco
Hegira 7th–8th centuries / AD 13th–14th centuries
The Challa Necropolis is built on the ancient site of Sala Colonia, a prosperous Roman city that was directly accessible from the river before being deserted in the AH 2nd / AD 8th century and falling into ruin in the AH 4th / AD 10th century. The Marinid sultans made it a royal necropolis, and it is from their time that most of the Arab-Muslim constructions date; constructions that are now in ruins following the destruction caused by the earthquake of AH 1168 / AD 1755.
The outer wall of the necropolis takes the form of an irregular quadrilateral whose sides are approximately 300 m long. It is accessed by a richly ornamented gateway that is flanked by two unusually shaped bastions: semi-octagonal at the base widening to become square at the top by means of muqarnas (honeycomb-work) corbels, crowned with pyramidion merlons. The opening is a narrow, pointed horseshoe arch. Its plain voussoirs are highlighted by archivolts formed of intertwined ribbons. The floral decoration is very finely detailed and clearly marked by two scallops. A large knotwork frieze crowns the inscribed band. The gateway is slightly bent, which demonstrates that its defensive aspect was little developed, despite the existence of guard rooms and a wall walk on the ramparts.
The following parts of the necropolis have survived to the present day:
- A mosque whose gateway is covered with pretty faience mosaics and a soberly decorated minaret.
- The funerary chamber (khalwa) of Abu al-Hasan (al-Sultan al-'Akhal 'the Black Sultan') (AH 731–51 / AD 1331–51), decorated on the outside with a muqarnas canopy. Nearby another marble stone is dedicated to his wife, Shams al-Duha (Morning Sun), a European convert.
- A zawiya (religious teaching establishment) consisting of a courtyard and a central pool with ceramic paving, surrounded by cells located behind galleries that are supported on marble columns. The zawiya has an oratory whose mihrab is surrounded by a semi-circular corridor.
- A stele known as 'Lalla Challa' from the name of the patron saint of the area.
Excavations have also uncovered a Muslim quarter with its squares, houses and public places, which demonstrates that the place was a genuine funerary town and, on occasions, a military city, and not just a simple necropolis.
This Marinid necropolis, seriously damaged by the earthquake of AH 1168 / AD 1755, was built on the site of the ancient Sala Colonia, near to Rabat. Set within an irregular quadrilateral with sides some 300 m long, it includes a richly decorated gateway flanked by two semi-octagonal bastions that become square at the top. The remains of a mosque, the burial chamber of Sultan Abu al-Hasan and his wife, and a zawiya complete with courtyard and basin can still be seen. Excavations have revealed a complete Islamic district.
The kufic inscription that decorates the frame of the gateway tells us that construction of the ramparts was commenced by Abu Said 'Uthman (709–31 / 1310–31) and completed by his son Abu al-Hasan in 739 / 1339.
Lévi-Provençal, É. & Basset, H., “Chellah, une nécropole mérinide”, Hespéris, 1922, pp. 464 ff.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954.
Andalusian Morocco: A Discovery in Living Art, pp.229–31.
Kamal Lakhdar "Challa Necropolis" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;ma;Mon01;5;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 07
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Muslim West | Funerary Steles: Memorials in Stone
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