Name of Object:



Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art

About Museum of Islamic Art, Raqqada.

Date of Object:

Hegira, second half of the 3rd century / AD 9th century

Museum Inventory Number:

Stc 005

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Carved stucco.


Length 8 cm, width 5 cm, height 4 cm

Period / Dynasty:



Probably Raqqada.


This inkwell is cubic in shape and consists of a central cylindrical pot to take the ink, and hollow areas on each side to take the pens.
Each facet of the inkwell is simply decorated with geometric patterns. In the centre a grooved diamond shape contains four deeply sculpted triangles. The whole is framed by a square, the four corners of which make four more triangles.
On each side of the central pattern a honeycomb effect is achieved by gouging out large numbers of very small triangles.
This decoration recalls that of certain Berber carpets, but it also resembles the brick decoration on ancient doorways at the Great Mosque of Kairouan dating from the AH 3rd / AD 9th century. Since this is the only surviving inkwell from the mediaeval age in Tunis, it is difficult to trace its origin. However, certain inkwells from the Samarkand excavations, which date from the AH 2nd–4th / AD 8th–10th centuries and which are more or less cylindrical, show similarities to the central pot of this Kairouanese inkwell and have similar hollowed-out geometric patterns.

View Short Description

The geometric decoration on this cubic inkwell is reminiscent of some Berber tapestries. The similarity to the brickwork patterns used on the ancient blocked doorways in the Great Mosque of Kairouan is also striking. This inkwell is the only surviving example of its type from Mediaeval Tunisia.

How date and origin were established:

This inkwell comes from the Raqqada site. The city of Raqqada was founded by Prince Ibrahim II in 263 / 876, which gives us a terminus ante quem date for the piece. However, Raqqada remained the capital city of the Aghlabids and then the Fatimids until 308 / 916. The city survived until the mid-5th / 11th century, when it became a purely residential town. This gives us a very broad dating period where precise choice is rendered even more difficult by the absence of published information from the various excavations. But the inkwell's decorative simplicity and its comparability with other contemporary inkwells allow us to place it in the second half of the 3rd / 9th century.

How Object was obtained:

After its discovery during the extensive excavations at Raqqada between 1961 and 1968, the inkwell was kept for many years at the site storehouse. It was acquired by the Raqqada Museum in 1986.

How provenance was established:

The discovery of this piece on the Raqqada site and its Ifriqiyan decoration would tend to confirm its local origin.

Selected bibliography:

De Kairouan a Carthage (exhibition catalogue), Tunis, 1995, p.65.
Ifriqiya: Thirteen Centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.174–6.

Citation of this web page:

Mourad Rammah "Inkwell" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024.;ISL;tn;Mus01;36;en

Prepared by: Mourad RammahMourad Rammah

Né en 1953 à Kairouan, docteur en archéologie islamique, Mourad Rammah est le conservateur de la médina de Kairouan. Lauréat du prix Agha Khan d'architecture, il publie divers articles sur l'histoire de l'archéologie médiévale islamique en Tunisie et participe à différentes expositions sur l'architecture islamique. De 1982 à 1994, il est en charge du département de muséographie du Centre des arts et des civilisations islamiques. Mourad Rammah est également directeur du Centre des manuscrits de Kairouan.

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 59


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