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Almoravid

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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

Almoravid

[al-Murābiṭūn].

Islamic dynasty that ruled parts of the Sahara, Morocco, Algeria and Spain from 1056 to 1147. The Sanhaja Berber chief Yahya ibn Ibrahim, on returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, founded a reform movement intended to strengthen orthodoxy among the Saharan Berbers, who were only superficially Islamized, but according to many Arab historiographers they adhered to Kharijite doctrine. With the support of the Malikite jurist Ibn Yasin and the Lamtuna Berber chiefs Yahya ibn ῾Umar and his brother Abu Bakr, a fortress for a Muslim brotherhood (Arab. ribāṭ) was established on an island at the mouth of the Senegal River. The fortress soon became a center for the tribes living near by, and the increasing power of those who lived there (al-murābiṭūn) led to the submission of all the Sanhaja tribes. Their renewal of Islam showed strong ascetic trends along with a simple piety that resulted in a holy war against the corrupt culture and errant Muslims of the Maghrib. In 1054 Yahya conquered Sijilmasa, the entrepôt for Saharan trade in Morocco, and by 1059 Abu Bakr controlled the Sus region. Quarrels among the desert tribes forced Abu Bakr to yield supreme command to Yusuf ibn Tashufin (r. 1070–1106), the real founder of the Almoravid empire. In 1069 he conquered Fez, in 1070 he established Marrakesh and made it capital of his realm, and by 1081 all of northern Morocco and parts of Algeria were under his control. As Abu Bakr had occupied the Sudanese empire of Ghana in 1076, the Almoravids controlled important North African ports as well as the trans-Saharan trade. After the Castilians conquered the Muslim kingdom of Toledo (1085), the Muslim kings of Spain asked Yusuf for help, and in 1086 he routed the Castilian forces at the Battle of al-Zallaqa (Sagrajas) near Badajoz. In 1090–94 the Almoravids annexed all the Muslim kingdoms in the Iberian peninsula and renewed the holy war against the Christian forces that culminated in the conquest of Valencia in 1102. Yusuf's son and successor ῾Ali (r. 1106–43) was a powerful ruler who personally went to war four times against the Christians in Spain, but the growing strength of the Almohad dynasty destroyed the Almoravid empire between 1144 and 1147.

The early Almoravids promulgated an extremely simple life in the areas they controlled, and the simplicity is reflected in their architecture (see Architecture, §V, D, 3). Their mosques, for example, have no contemporary minarets because they were considered impious innovations (see Minaret). Shortly before conquering Spain, Yusuf built a small and simple mosque at Nédroma in Algeria. The prayer-hall has nine naves and three bays, extended on each side of the court by a triple gallery of horseshoe-shaped arches. The Great Mosque of Algiers (c.1097) has a prayer-hall of eleven naves perpendicular to the qibla and five bays deep. Each nave is covered with a tiled roof. The interior decoration is extremely sober, the monotony broken only by two lines of transverse arches, some of them cusped, and a finely carved wooden Minbar (1087; Algiers, Mus. N. Ant.). Yusuf brought Andalusian artisans to North Africa, and they introduced new ideas to the arts of Fez and Marrakesh. In Fez, the Qarawiyyin and Andalusiyyin quarters were united by the erection of the Qasba Bu Julud on top of the highest point of the city.

῾Ali did not continue his father's strong asceticism and was in the thrall of Andalusian traditions. The congregational mosque built by the Almoravids in Marrakesh has been destroyed except for a small domed structure, the Qubbat al-Barudiyyin (see Architecture, fig. 28), which formed part of the ablution complex. The rectangular base is pierced with many openings and arched windows and supports an octagonal zone of transition and a ribbed dome. The stucco interior is beautifully decorated with muqarnas and stylized floral and shell motifs. Another surviving element from this mosque is a spectacular inlaid wooden minbar (Marrakesh, Badi῾ Pal. Mus.) made in Córdoba c.1125–30 and later transferred to the Kutubiyya Mosque in Marrakesh (for illustration see Minbar and Woodwork, color pl. 2:XVI, fig. 3). ῾Ali was also responsible for enlarging the Great Mosque of Tlemcen in Algeria, including the exquisite pierced and ribbed stucco cupola (1136; see fig.). Between 1135 and 1142 ῾Ali also extended the Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fez, adding three naves to the existing seven. The cupolas and upper parts of the walls were decorated with muqarnas embellished with fine polychromatic floral ornament, later whitewashed by the Almohads and only uncovered in the 20th century. ῾Ali also appreciated fine textiles, for the Chasuble of San Juan de Ortega at Quintanaortuña (Burgos) is made from a splendid Spanish silk decorated with roundels enclosing paired animals and inscribed with the name of the Almoravid ruler (see Textiles, §II, A, C).

Almoravid

Almoravid congregational mosque, view of dome over the mihrab, Tlemcen, Algeria, 1136; photo credit: Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom

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Bibliography

  • Enc. Islam/2: “Murābiṭūn,” “Marrākūsh” [Marrakesh]
  • H. Terrasse: Histoire du Maroc des origines à l’établissement du Protectorat français, i (Casablanca, 1949)
  • J. Bosch Vilá: Los Almorávides (Tetouan, 1956/R Granada, 1990)
  • P. F. de Moraes Farias: “The Almoravids: Some Questions Concerning the Character of the Movement during its Periods of Closest Contact with the Western Sudan,” Bull. Inst. Fondamental Afrique Noire, xxix (1967), pp. 794–878
  • H. Terrasse: La Mosquée al-Qaraouiyin à Fès (Paris, 1968)
  • R. Bourouiba: L’Art religieux musulman en Algérie (Algiers, 1973)
  • D. Hill and L. Golvin: Islamic Architecture in North Africa (London, 1976)
  • C. Ewert and J.-P. Wisshak: Forschungen zur almohadischen Moschee, i (Mainz, 1981)
  • K.-H. Golzio: “Berber, Araber und Islam in Morokko vom 7. bis 13. Jahrhundert,” Madrid. Mitt., xxx (1989), pp. 432–97
  • Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain (exh. cat., ed. J. D. Dodds; Granada, Alhambra; New York, Met.; 1992), no. 115 [Kutubiyya minbar]
  • J. Bloom and others: Minbar from the Kutubiyya Mosque (New York, 1998)
  • H. Hattstein and P. Delius, eds.: Islamic Art and Architecture (Cologne, 2000), pp. 244–71 [good pictures]
  • Y. Benhima: “Fortifications étatiques et fortifications communautaires au Maroc à l’époque almoravide (11–12e s.),” Mil años de fortificações na Península Ibérica e no Magreb (500–1500) (Lisbon, 2002), pp. 259–71
  • J. M. Bloom: “Almoravid Geometric Designs in the Pavement of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo,” The Iconography of Islamic Art: Studies in Honour of Robert Hillenbrand, ed. B. O’Kane (Edinburgh, 2005), pp. 61–80
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