Almohad Mosque of the Kasbah
In the Medina, Tunis, Tunisia
Hegira 633 / AD 1235
Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Qasim.
Abu Zakariyya al-Hafsi, founder of the Hafsid Dynasty.
After declaring his independence from the Almohads of Marrakesh, the first Hafsid sovereign, Abu Zakariyya, had a palace built in the kasbah (seat of the government). Shortly after this he built this mosque. Starting off as a simple oratory, it went on to attain the status of a Friday mosque. Until then, only the Zaytuna mosque had enjoyed this role.
With the arrival of the Turks it went over to the Hanefite rite practiced by the new masters of Ifriqiya.
Built on a rectangular plan, the prayer hall is longer than it is wide, unlike the usual model for Ifriqiyan mosques. It is divided into seven naves and nine bays and it is roofed with groined vaults separated by horseshoe arches supported on columns with Hafsid capitals and imposts in long parallelepipeds.
The mihrab is covered with marble panels. Above it hangs a fine dome adorned with plaster stalactites (muqarnas) and flanked by colonnettes with finely carved and gilded capitals. At the time the mosque went over to the Hanifite rite, the wooden minbar was removed and replaced with a stone minbar covered with marble.
The most important element of the Kasbah Mosque is undeniably its minaret. It borrows its main decorative features from the Kasbah Mosque in Marrakesh, which predates it by 50 years. The decoration is made of stone – not of brick like the usual Moroccan model. This consists of a network of interlocking arches from the base to the top, forming a tracery of diamond shapes which stand out from the ochre stone background. This decoration covers all four sides of the square tower. Two of the diamond shapes on the east face bear an inscription dating the monument.
This mosque was built at the high-point of the kasbah, once defended by strong walls and the site of the palace of the powerful sultan Abu Zakariyya al-Hafsi. Its status was elevated from courtyard oratory to Friday mosque, a status enjoyed only by the Zaytuna Mosque before the conversion, and it was allocated to worship according to Hanafi school after the arrival of the Turks. The most important part of the mosque is its minaret, which borrows decorative elements from the Almohad towers of the mosque of the Marrakesh kasbah, the Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda in Seville.
Inscriptions on the minaret and inside the mosque.
Daoulatli, A., Tunus fi al-aha al-hafsi, al- tatawwur al-hadari wa al-nashat al-mimari (Tunis sous les Hafsides, evolution urbianes et activite architecturale), Tunis, 1976.
Golvin, L., Essai sur l'architecture religieuse musulmane, Paris, 1974.
Marçais, G., Architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954, pp.294–5.
Marçais, G., Manuel d'art musulman, Paris, 1926–7, pp.525–6.
Mohamed Béji Ben Mami "Almohad Mosque of the Kasbah" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;tn;Mon01;6;en
Prepared by: Mohamed Béji Ben MamiMohamed Béji Ben Mami
Né le 27 janvier 1950 à Tunis, docteur en archéologie islamique, Mohamed Béji Ben Mami est directeur général de l'Institut national du patrimoine et vice-président de la Municipalité de Tunis. Il a restauré, sauvegardé et mis en valeur plus d'une cinquantaine de monuments de la médina de Tunis, dirigé les fouilles de grands sites islamiques et organisé diverses expositions relatives à la civilisation arabo-islamique.
Depuis 1996, il est vice-président de l'Union des historiens arabes et représentant de l'Union des archéologues arabes de Tunisie.
Mohamed Béji Ben Mami a pris part à divers congrès internationaux et publié plusieurs articles et ouvrages, parmi lesquels Tourbet el-Bey (Tunis, 2004) et Les médersas de la médina de Tunis (Tunis, 2005).
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: David Ash
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: TN 06
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Muslim West | Mosques: A Place for Prayer
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