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Sedrata

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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

Sedrata

Site of a settlement in the Sahara in the early Islamic period, near the modern-day Algerian city of Ouargla. Sedrata was briefly the capital of the Khariji sect in North Africa until it was destroyed in the 11th century.

In the 7th century, the Kharijites, a highly conservative opposition party that rejected both the succession of ῾Ali b. Abu Talib as well as that of his rivals, fled from persecution to the Maghrib. The Rustamid dynasty of Kharijites established their capital at Tahart (now in western Algeria), but fled from there to Sedrata in 909 when the Fatimids invaded. The Kharijites remained at Sedrata until it was destroyed in 1077; leaving Sedrata they took refuge in the oasis towns of the Mzab Valley in Central Algeria, where the Kharijite tradition has survived to the present day. The austere architectural tradition of these towns is rather hard to reconcile with the sophisticated and intricate stucco decoration found at Sedrata.

After the Kharijites left, the city of Sedrata effectively disappeared into the desert, only to be excavated by Marguerite Van Berchem and others in the 20th century. Several attractive stucco panels were recovered from the remains of various buildings at the site. Carved deeply and evenly, they are notably flat and dense when compared to the stucco traditions of Samarra, although they also work within an abstracting geometric mode. Some of them are reminiscent of textile designs in their repetitive decoration, covering large surfaces with flat, bold patterns. Pieces of the stucco from Sedrata are preserved in the museum at Ouargla; a stunning arch from a niche, decorated with heavily carved bands of lattice, scrollwork and geometric designs, is held in the Musée National des Antiquités in Algiers. In 1995 a set of Algerian postage stamps printed with images of the Sedrata stucco panels were produced.

Bibliography

  • Enc. Islam/2: “Khārijīs,” “Mzab” Find it in your Library
  • M. van Berchem: “Le Palais de Sedrata dans le desert Saharien,” Studies in Islamic Art and Architecture in Honour of Professor K. A. C. Creswell (Cairo, 1965), pp. 8–29. Find it in your Library
  • R. Bourouiba: Cités disparues: Tahert, Sedrata, Achir, Kalaâ des Béni-Hammad (Algiers, 1981). Find it in your Library
  • A. Hamlaoui: “Les stucs de Sedrata,” L’Algérie en heritage: Art et histoire (exh. cat., ed. E. Delpont; Paris, Inst. Monde Arab., 2003), pp. 301–6. Find it in your Library
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