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Aghlabid

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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture

Aghlabid

Islamic dynasty that governed Tunisia, Algeria and Sicily from 800 to 909. The province of Ifriqiya, roughly corresponding to modern Tunisia, had been administered from Kairouan since the Islamic conquest in the 7th century by governors named by the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. The caliph authorized one of these governors, Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab (r. 800–12), to appoint his own successor, thereby engendering a dynasty that maintained its position by paying the caliph an annual tribute. Ibrahim immediately built a satellite city, which he named al-῾Abbasiyya, with a palace, known as the Qasr al-Abyad, and a congregational mosque. His sons ῾Abdallah I (r. 812–17) and Ziyadat Allah I (r. 817–38) continued to put down insurrections, and Tunis was temporarily outside the authority of the Aghlabid amir in Kairouan. The conquest of Sicily (827) was conducted like a holy war against the Byzantines, and the troops, encouraged by indoctrination in fortified convents (Arab. ribāṭ), were led by a wise man (faqīh) of proverbial piety. The Great Mosque of Kairouan, founded c. 670 and rebuilt many times, was demolished in 836 and rebuilt in its present form (see Architecture, §IV, C and fig. 7). The next rulers, Abu ῾Iqal (r. 838–41) and Muhammad I (r. 841–56), had relatively peaceful reigns. The small mosque of Bu Fatata (838–41) was built at Sousse, and the congregational mosques of Sfax (c.849) and Sousse (850–51) were erected.

The dynasty reached its apogee under Abu Ibrahim Ahmad (r. 856–63) when the Great Mosque of Kairouan was embellished: galleries were added around the court, the prayer-hall was given a splendid Minbar of small carved panels of teak (see Woodwork, §I, C and fig. 3) and the mihrab received a magnificent covering of luster-painted tiles imported from Iraq (see Mihrab, color pl. 2:XVI, fig. 1; see also Ceramics, §II, E). Hydraulic improvements included an aqueduct feeding two enormous polygonal cisterns outside the walls of Kairouan (for illustration see Kairouan). The Zaytuna Mosque in Tunis, a building that rivaled the Great Mosque of Kairouan, was restored in a campaign completed in 864–5. Kairouan became an important religious and cultural center, attracting scholars and artisans who developed local variants of the Abbasid metropolitan styles (see fig.). A group of Koran manuscripts found in the library of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, of which the earliest are traditionally attributed to the Aghlabid period, include some of the finest examples of early Islamic calligraphy and bookbinding. Muhammad II (r. 863–75), known as Abu῾l-Gharaniq, had a passion for hunting, pleasure and drink. Although Ibrahim II (r. 875–902) began his reign as an excellent prince, he soon slid into limitless absolutism, unleashing his bloodiest passions even on his own children. Nevertheless this strange ruler had the city of Raqqada built several kilometers from Kairouan, and Arab authors praised this splendid city for the beauty of its palaces, orchards and pools. Ibrahim's successors could not contain the growing strength of the Fatimid troops, and their taking of Kairouan in 909 put an end to the Aghlabid dynasty.

Aghlabid

Mosque of the Three Doors, Kairouan, Tunisia, 866; photo credit: Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom

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Bibliography

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  • G. Marçais: L’Architecture musulmane d’occident (Paris, 1954), pp. 1–54 Find it in your Library
  • A. Lézine: Le Ribat de Sousse (Tunis, 1956) Find it in your Library
  • G. Marçais and L. Golvin: La Grande Mosquée de Sfax (Tunis, 1960) Find it in your Library
  • A. Lézine: Architecture de l’Ifriqiya: Recherches sur les monuments aghlabides (Paris, 1966) Find it in your Library
  • M. Talbi: L’Emirat aghlabide, 184–296/800–909 (Paris, 1966) Find it in your Library
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  • G. Kircher: “Die Moschee des Muhammad b. Hairun (‘Drei-Tore-Moschee’) in Qairawân, Tunesien,” Mitt. Dt. Archäol. Inst.: Abt. Kairo, xxvi (1970), pp. 141–68 Find it in your Library
  • L. Golvin: Essai sur l’architecture religieuse musulmane, iii (Paris, 1974), pp. 123–276 Find it in your Library
  • J. Bloom: Minaret: Symbol of Islam (Oxford, 1989), pp. 86–98 Find it in your Library
  • S. Mazot: “Tunisia and Egypt, the Aghlabids and Fatimids,” Islam: Art and Architecture, ed. M. Hattstein and P. Delius (Cologne, 2000), pp. 128–63 Find it in your Library
  • A. Ben Amara and others: Jaune de Raqqada et autres couleurs de céramiques glaçurées aghlabides de Tunisie (IXe–Xe siècles) [Yellow Colour and Other Colours of Aghlabide Glazed Ceramics from Tunisia (IXe-Xe Centuries)] (Rennes, 2001) Find it in your Library
  • O. Bobin and others: “Where Did the Lustre Tiles of the Sidi Oqba Mosque (AD 836–63) in Kairouan Come From?,” Archaeometry, xlv/4 (2003), pp. 569–77 Find it in your Library
  • E. Voguet: “L’Inventaire des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque de la grande mosquée de Kairouan (693/1293–4),” Arabica, l/4 (2003), pp. 532–44 Find it in your Library
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