Name of Monument:

Great Mosque of Mahdiyya


Mahdiyya, Tunisia

Date of Monument:

Hegira 297 / AD 910

Period / Dynasty:

Fatimo-Zirid (Beginning of the dynasty)


The Fatimid caliph al-Mahdi.


The mosque was built on a fairly tangential piece of land which was in-filled and reclaimed from the sea. Several re-workings of the original building have taken place, mainly during the Zirid period after the collapse of the qibla wall. Other works were carried out during the Ottoman era in the 11th / 17th century. The mosque was rebuilt between 1961 and 1968. Only the porch and the north gallery are authentic.


This mosque was built on a rectangular plan measuring 75 m x 55 m. It is flanked by two round towers which served to catch the water running from the terraces. It seems the mosque did not have a minaret. The call to prayer was probably proclaimed from one of the towers. In front of the main entrance stands a porch claimed to be the first to figure in Maghrebin architecture. Harmoniously proportioned, this porch is roofed with a round horseshoe arch with mihrab-shaped niches placed high up on either side. Lower down, the different faces of the porch are ornamented with flat-backed niches. This decoration, a main feature of Fatimid monuments (best exemplified by the lateral façade of the Great mosque at Sfax) was carried over into the early Zirid period. This porch is reminiscent of the triumphal arches built by the Romans.
This entrance porch leads into a courtyard surrounded by four galleries with a room at each corner. These are supported by arches and pillars rising from the courtyard on each side. Pointed arches for the north gallery simply rest on pillars whilst the three other galleries have round horseshoe arches and columns with capitals. From the southeast gallery one comes into the prayer-hall which has nine naves and three bays. The central nave and the transept form a T-shape. At their intersection is a dome supported on multifoil columns, under which a reproduction of the AH 5th-/ AD 11th-century mihrab has been built. This comprises a niche with fluted walls, each flute terminating in a shell motif. A cul-de-four on top of the niche is bordered by a horseshoe arch positioned on small corner columns incorporating Zirid capitals. The Great Mosque at Mahdiyya was the inspiration for several Egyptian mosques, notably al-Hakim and al-Aqmar mosques in Cairo.

View Short Description

The Great Mosque of Mahdiyya was built by the caliph al-Mahdi. It was modified on several occasions before being rebuilt by the French architect A. Lézine between 1961 and 1965. The mosque does not appear to have had a minaret, with the call to prayer being made from the top of one of its towers. The Great Mosque of Mahdiyya inspired a number of mosques in Fatimid Egypt, such as al-Hakim Mosque and al-Aqmar Mosque in Cairo. This monument owes its beauty to the simplicity of its forms and materials, as the absence of any superfluous decoration.

How Monument was dated:

Historical sources, for example Ibn Idhari (7th / 13th century), as well as geographical authorities such as al-Bakri (5th / 11th century), attribute the Mahdiyya mosque to the Fatimid caliph al-Mahdi. However, the north gallery and the old mihrab can be dated from the Zirid era through comparisons with contemporary monuments such as the Great Mosque at Sfax and the mihrab of the Great Mosque at Monastir.

Selected bibliography:

Lezine, A., Mahdia, Recherches d'archeologie islamique, Paris, 1965.
Lezine, A., Mahdia, Tunis, 1968.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954.
Ifriqiya: Thirteen centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.178–80.

Citation of this web page:

Saloua Zangar "Great Mosque of Mahdiyya" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. 2022.;ISL;tn;Mon01;21;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 21


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