Maghreb contributions to universal architecture

The origin of Andalusian-Maghreb architecture can be dated to the year 786
Maghreb contributions to universal architecture

PHOTO  -   Maghreb contributions to universal architecture

The origin of Andalusian-Maghreb architecture can be dated to the year 786


It will be in Al-Andalus, and specifically in Cordoba, where it will crystallize for the first time what we could consider an architecture typical of Islam. The vertiginous expansion of the religion of Mohammed, in two continents in a very short space of time1 did not propitiate the necessary sedimentation for an architecture proper to the civilization2 that was being created to manifest itself.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

The origin of Andalusian-Maghrebi architecture can be dated back to 786, when the construction of the Mosque of Cordoba began, with Cordoba being the focus of its political and cultural influence in the Iberian Peninsula and also in the north of the Maghreb until the abolition of the Caliphate in 1031. 

A process of synthesis was developed on the Iberian Peninsula between the 8th and 10th centuries, which, based on elements and influences from a wide variety of sources, would give rise to a new architecture that would have an enormous influence on later Spanish architecture3 and its projection in America, and on the architecture of Muslim countries

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

It will be in the Mosque of Cordoba first, and then in the Aljafería of Zaragoza, where some formal prototypes will be materialized that will influence all the later Islamic art. Perhaps in no other civilisation is there such a strong symbolic and referential identification with its architectural forms.

This initial phase, which corresponds to the emirate and the caliphate of Cordoba and the first Taifa kingdoms, is genuinely Iberian. In the Maghreb, the political and social conditions have not yet been met for the architectural development that took place in the north of the Straits of Gibraltar4 .   

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

It will be with the Berber dynasties that the eastern Maghreb, from Tremecén to Marrakech, will develop architectural models which, without ceasing to use the formal vocabulary defined in Al-Andalus, will be purely Maghrebian creations, and will in turn influence the creations that emerge on the other side of the Straits.

With the Almoravids, already in the eleventh century, the Maghreb acquires political prominence, and also - this is what interests us - architectural. Historically obscured by the Almohads, great builders, who would come later, would be the creators of a type of mosque, Maghreb, which departed from the oriental, Cordovan or Kairouanese models. The mosques of Algiers, Tremecén, Nedroma or Fez are original examples of a purely Maghrebi typological unit.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

It will also be with the Almoravids that an element will arrive from the East to the Maghreb that will become an essential part of the repertoire of later Andalusian-Maghreb architecture: the muqarnas, absent in earlier Ibero-Muslim architecture.

Much better known is the Almohad contribution to the creation of architectural types. The minaret of the Kutubia in Marrakech is an archetype that, followed by those of Seville (Giralda) and Rabat (Tour Hassan), to which we should add the original of the Salé mosque, will be replicated in hundreds of examples throughout the Iberian-Maghreb region.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

The collapse of the Almohad Empire, which like the Almoravid had previously controlled both the Maghreb and a large part of the Iberian Peninsula, led to its fragmentation into three kingdoms: the Nasrid (Granada), the Merinid5 (Fez) and the Zianid (Tlemcen). Above all, in the first two kingdoms a magnificent architecture will flourish, in what could be called a second golden age of Muslim art: the first would be the Caliphate of Cordoba.

The Nasrid art reaches in the Alhamabra, probably, the summit of the art of Muslim origin of all times, synthesizing and distilling seven centuries of constructive tradition. The dome of the Abencerrajes hall is, in a certain way, heir to the geometric designs of complex stereotomy of the last Umayyads of Cordoba, but also to the formal universe of the muqarnas incorporated by the Berber dynasties.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

The Benimerines are going to contribute to the history the creation of an architectural type of oriental origin, but genuinely Maghribian, and more concretely Moroccan. If the medina is Morocco's most important contribution to universal urban culture, the madrasa is the most important contribution to architectural culture.

In the development of madrasas there are chapters and passages of great interest: the clear relationship between Benimerines and Nasrids favours the arrival of this type of architecture in Granada. Was not the so-called Palace of the Lions of the Alhambra originally a madrasa6? And as for the architectural language, we cannot help but be surprised by the appearance of a giant order articulating the facades, in the madrasas of Fez, a century before it was "first" used by Leon Battista Alberti in Santa Andrea de Mantua.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

With the decline of the benimerines, the decline of the Maghrebi creative genius also occurs. The later Watafi, Saadi and Alaouite dynasties reproduced the pre-existing models without contributing new typological models to what had already been created in previous centuries, in Cordoba, Zaragoza, Tremecén, Marrakech, Fez and Granada. This combination and reproduction of previous models led to the crystallization of a syntax of its own, and ultimately the survival of a characteristic architectural style, which could be considered the Moroccan style.

In Andalusian-Maghreb architecture, there are elements, types, characteristics, some formal, others intangible, of extraordinary value, which constitute a rich legacy of a shared past, a magnificent repertoire of learning, and inspiration for artistic creation. This repertoire has generally been used in a very banal and superficial way, producing everywhere, especially - but not only - in Muslim countries, stereotyped forms, pastiches and meaningless clichés, repeated to boredom.

There are also magnificent examples of contemporary architecture that have found their source of inspiration in the Andalusian-Maghreb repertoire by understanding essential aspects of it. The architecture of the Egyptian Hassan Fathy is a good example of this. As are the projects that the Aga Kahn Foundation highlights every year in its awards: as a sample button highlight the museum of Madinat al-Zahra of the Spanish couple Nieto-Sobejano or the Islamic cemetery in the Austrian town of Altach, designed by architect Bernardo Bader, in which the Bosnian artist Azra Aksamisa participated with great skill. Another example of an in-depth analysis of this architecture, as a source of plastic inspiration, which I cannot resist mentioning, is the exhibition "The Protective Sky" by the sculptor Teresa Esteban.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

The Almoravid mosques

Yusuf Ibn Tashfin (1009-1106) forger of the Almoravid empire ordered to build the mosques of Tremecen (1082), Nedroma (1086), Algiers (1096), Meknes ? He had conquered Fez around 1075, where the Al-Qarawiyyin mosque already existed. All these mosques have a great homogeneity, coming to build their own type, completely differentiated from the Andalusian and oriental types, and that will have continuity in the Almohad period with examples such as those of Taza and Marrakech7 , and in the Marinid, as is the case of Uchda.

Almoravid asceticism, which was a rigorist reaction to Andalusian liberalism in the interpretation of Islam, and to its refinement, left its mark on these mosques, whose most distinctive spatial characteristic is given by the nature of the elements of the supporting structure of their naves, which are no longer columns as in Cordoba, Kairouan, or as in Damascus and Jerusalem, but are pillars. If the space of the Cordovan mosque is a floating space of suspended masses, in the Almoravid mosques the space is of a rotund gravity that is underlined by the whiteness of the massive pillars and the arches, always of horseshoe, that they support.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

In other words, what is most characteristic of Almoravid mosques is the absence of columns, and that absence of columns becomes a defining characteristic of an architectural type; the absence of columns as a typological characteristic. Until then, the column - made of marble - is a characteristic element of the mosque; mosques, like churches, are originally the hypostyle rooms of Roman basilicas. And in fact the columns of the mosques come in not a few cases from Roman ruins.

The absence of columns can be understood for practical reasons: although Roman ruins existed in the western Maghreb, Volubilis for example at a distance of about 50 kilometres from Fez, they were not as within reach as in Cordoba or Kairouan. To make them ex nuovo, it was necessary to exploit a quarry first, and then have experienced quarrymen in the art of carving and polishing. The Almoravids were originally and etymologically monks-soldiers who we can hardly imagine being so refined as to arrange the carving and polishing of stone columns.

But the absence of columns in the Almoravid mosques can also be understood from the ideological assumptions that advocated austerity - imbued with militarism - as a reaction to Andalusian "excesses".

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

Another characteristic of these mosques is the layout of their courtyards (sahn), which are left as interior courtyards, as they are flanked by the extension of the side naves of the prayer room, and generally have an access portico. Note the difference with the exterior courtyard of the Cordoba mosque; the spatial articulation of the courtyard with the prayer room forming a whole is typical of oriental mosques such as that of Al-Azhar in Fatimid Cairo.     

To the inevitable question about the origin of this structural -and spatial- type we cannot answer categorically, but we can reason some hypothesis: as we have seen, it cannot be more opposed to the Cordovan model; but neither does it have anything to do with the other great Western reference, that of the Kairouan mosque. It could be thought that the original al-Qarawiyyin mosque in Fez, built around 900, following, or not, the model of Susa8 , was the reference and prototype adopted by the Almoravids, first in the recently founded Marrakech9 , and later in the cities they conquered: Fez itself, where they extended the existing mosque, Meknes, Nedroma and Algiers.

Be that as it may, we only find a previous, prototypical reference in the aforementioned mosque of Susa (Tunisia), whose construction dates back to around 850. Although it has been said by some generalist authors that this mosque follows the model of Kairouan, like Jamila Binous I do not share this statement at all10 , at least in terms of its structure and spatiality. In the Aghlabid mosque of Susa, strong pillars are built even though the builders had old columns in the vicinity; only two columns with Corinthian capitals are used, strategically placed, supporting the Saxon arch in the central nave, in the ante-mihrab: this is a very explicit symbolic gesture: it indicates the proximity of the mihrab, and with it the direction in which the praying person should orient himself, and it constitutes a whole declaration of principles: the supports - in the form of pillars - should be robust, reinforcing the idea of the solidity of a religion and a civilization that has already taken solid root in the North African territories: the columns - although they have not lost their carrying, earthly function, acquire another symbolic, higher nature.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

In the Almoravid mosques of northeastern Morocco and western Algeria, the column is no longer an essential element of Islamic religious architecture, while the arch and dome remain so.

Another very interesting fact of the Almoravid period as far as architecture and decorative arts are concerned is the incorporation, not the creation, to its formal repertoire of the muqarnas. In fact, as is well known, its creation is oriental11 , and we do not find any muqarnas in the previous Andalusian constructions.

The oldest vestiges of muqarnas in the Maghreb are those found in the ruins of the fortified city - Qalas - of Benu Hammad, in present-day Algeria, whose construction dates from the beginning of the 11th century. The Almoravids incorporate this element in the domes of the great mosques of Fez and Tremecen, and in the Qubbat Barudiyin of Marrakech. The following dynasties incorporated the muqarnas into their repertoires, with magnificent examples such as those of Tinmel in Morocco (Almohads), or Belhasen in Algeria (Zianids). The Mozarabic will pass to the Iberian Peninsula with the Almohads Alcázar of Seville and will reach its maximum splendour with the Nasrids in the domes of the Abencerrajes and the Two Sisters in the Alhambra of Granada.

The Almohad Minarets

Marrakech, Seville and Rabat were extraordinarily important in the Almohad period (1130-1269). The three towers built at that time are evidence of this and have become the respective symbols of these cities. It is curious and also significant that the same typological element is the most representative monument of three different cities whose evolution since the Almohad period has been quite different. After the Tower of Hercules, and next to the Tower of Pisa (1173) are also the oldest towers, the first, which have become symbols of their respective cities; much later come the Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State.

Their simple square-based prism shape and slimness make them perfect for becoming symbols. They were not ex-new creations: like almost nothing in life. Square-based towers were logically built in many places; the minaret of the Cordoba mosque ordered to be built by Abderraman III is a clear reference that could not have gone unnoticed by the builder of the Giralda, nor surely by the builder of the Kutubía12.  

The Almohads were great builders, but they did not create new architectural forms either structurally or decoratively, as was the case in Cordoba, Zaragoza, or the Almoravid mosques. The vocabulary does not evolve much; what evolves is the syntax. What is most relevant about these towers, for the purposes of this article, is that they are the crystallisation of an architectural type that is going to be incorporated into the Andalusian-Maghreb repertoire, being used by the different later dynasties that dominated the Maghreb after the Almohads, by the Mudejar, with its transfer to the American continent, reaching the 20th century with the neo-Mudejar revival13.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

The fortune of the Almohad minaret as an architectural type is made explicit by a phenomenon we could call gyralism. The Giralda becomes a formal reference that will serve as a model for numerous towers of Andalusian churches: in the words of Fernando Chueca, Andalusia flourishes with giralds. The iconic value of the Giralda reaches its peak at the end of the 19th century: in 1890 a replica of the Giralda is completed in New York, which was part of the complex of the second Madison Square Garden, designed by the architects McKim, Rutherford and White.

A few years later at the universal exhibition in Paris in 1900, occupying an area of some five thousand square metres in the Trocadero, the French built a real amusement park avant la lettre under the name of L'Andalousie au temps des maures, which included a life-size reproduction of the Giralda by the architect Deruaz. There are buildings inspired by the Giralda in many other cities around the world such as Kansas City, Warsaw or Moscow14.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal
  As Basilio Pavón Maldonado points out in his monumental Treatise on Hispano-Muslim Architecture, the proportion of Almohad towers becomes more slender than previous minaret models, reaching a ratio of 1:5.5 in the Kutubia, and 1:5 in Seville and Rabat. The second minaret in the Cordoba mosque, the one built by Abderraman III, around 952, and which is considered the initial reference for Andalusian-Maghrebi minarets, the origin of the type, had a ratio of 1:4. The minaret of the Kutubia will be a milestone in the evolution of this type of minaret, which will be established in the Giralda.

The facades are articulated by a sophisticated system of opening holes. These are small holes that do not simply open up in the wall, but form part of rectangular elements sunk into the façade plane, in the form of vertically aligned doorways, in which arches of different shapes and hierarchies are arranged, most of them blind. These "portals" are richly decorative, almost filigree, and contrast with the austerity of the rest of the facades: something that would be characteristic of Hispanic architecture up to the Baroque.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

The ceramic decoration appears on the crown band of the main body, and also on the crowning body, the zelige ceramic coating will be characteristic in later architectures such as the Marinid and Nasrid ones. On the upper level of the main body there are interlaced arches following the model of the Aljafería in Zaragoza, and which indicate the path of what is to become the sebka, that network of lozenges formed when the arches interlace, devoid of any structural function and which is to be the most characteristic element in the decoration of the facades of the minarets, as is already the case in the Giralda and the Torre Hasán in Rabat. The architectural type - which is not a typology - is already fully defined and is finished off by a concentric and recessed prismatic body, the lantern - perhaps reminiscent of the lighthouses of antiquity, the typological ancestors of the minarets - and by the yamur set of three metallic spheres of decreasing size, in vertical alignment. The minaret as an architectural type is fixed and basically will not evolve any further.

The differences between the three towers are so significant that to pretend - as has been said - that they are the work of the same architect seems to me to be unfounded. What makes them "sisters", apart from their plan formed by two concentric squares, are rather their proportions, their clear form of a slender prism, and their great symbolic value on an urban scale15.

I believe that not enough importance has been given to it, or to put it another way, the study of the minaret of the Salé mosque has not been exhausted. The various interventions and reconstructions mean that the version we can admire today does not have the authenticity of the other three towers. In any case, I would like to emphasise here its great value as an urban reference, and the peculiarity of its location, inside the courtyard of the mosque, which means that the minaret can only be seen from a distance or when one accesses - if one is allowed to - the courtyard.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

The function of minarets: providing a dominant place from which the muezzin can call five times a day to prayer will end up being a pretext, almost a macguffin to create a symbol, an icon. The first mosques did not have minarets: the muezzin would climb to the top of a wall, or an adjoining defense tower so that his call to prayer could be heard by the neighborhood; the Fatimids forbade the construction of minarets in their Shi'ite mosques. Today, the muezzin's song is usually recorded and broadcast over loudspeakers. However, no mosque can be built today without a large minaret, such as the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, or the "M-30" Mosque in Madrid, or the more recent Great Mosque in Algiers.

The Merinidian madrasas

Madrasas16 are the most original elements of Moroccan architectural heritage. Madrasas, like the Mozarabs, come from the East17 ; they combined their initial educational function18 - a Koranic school - which had always been carried out in mosques, with the function of providing accommodation for students coming from other cities or from the countryside. They existed all over the Islamic world, but had not constituted an architectural type of their own. It was in Morocco, and more specifically in Fez, where, with the dynasty of the Benimerines, it crystallised from the end of the 13th century and throughout the 14th century, what in my opinion is the most important architectural contribution of the Maghreb country.

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Its architecture is of great rationality and unity, being a magnificent exponent of the typological category of courtyard houses, so remote and deeply rooted in the cultures that develop in the Mediterranean basin, from Egypt to Rome19 , passing through Greece, and before that in the Mesopotamian -Sumeria- and Persian cultures. Especially suitable for hot and dry regions, it will be the residential type par excellence of the peoples of Islam. In addition to the climatic factor, as Alejandro Pérez Ordóñez20 points out, a socio-religious factor will make this type of architecture even more suitable for Islamic civilisation: the necessary privacy and public concealment of women in Islam21 . Dwellings open up to an intimate interior, while they close like fortresses to the outside.

The courtyard is the backbone and regulating element of the buildings, which show a very different order to the urban fabric in which they are integrated. It is interesting to observe the exterior-interior dialectic on an urban scale, from a bird's eye view, or from Google Earth of a medina. The urban fabric appears as a labyrinth of organic forms in which there is no hint of orthogonality22 . However, these organic forms are formed by the juxtaposition of building units, like cells whose nuclei are rectangular courtyards that generate an internal orthogonal order.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal   
It is in the Andalusian-Maghreb domestic architecture, for the reasons explained above, that the patio is revealed as an essential and irreplaceable element in the constitution of the housing cell; its maximum exponent is the riads that serve as a framework for the daily life of the families. We could also try to relate the floors of the madrasas with those of the fonducs, those constructions that, like hotels, welcomed commercial travellers and in which commercial activity also took place, always with the patio as a space for access to the rooms and as a space for a limited relationship.

As it has been said, the Marinid architecture influenced the Nasrid one, as far as madrasas are concerned. The madrasa of Granada was built in 1349 on the initiative of Ridwan el Nasri during the reign of Sultan Yusuf I, probably following the model of the Attarin; this influence could have gone much further, as Amadeo Serra Desfilis23 points out, stating that the architect of the Spanish College of Bologna may well have been inspired by them.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

Madrasas are the equivalent of European university colleges, and are developed before them. In Europe, as in the Maghreb, the need for a suitable environment and space for university education had already been felt since the 13th century. Boncompagno da Signa, in his treatise Rethorica novissima (1235), alludes to the need for architecture that is as austere as it is practical. The university foundations of Bologna, Paris, Oxford, Montpellier and Salamanca date from this period, although it was not until the second half of the 14th century that this need gave rise to a specific type of architecture, with examples such as the aforementioned Spanish College of Bologna and the New College of Oxford24 . In Fez, the Saffarin Madrasa was already a new structure created in 1271 for the purpose of teaching and housing students. In European colleges, the spatial organization around a courtyard is also characteristic.

On the walls of the madrasas it is clear what has come to be called horror vacui. The geometric decoration, made of plaster, in very flat and uniform relief, covers completely all the wall surfaces, contributing with its chiaroscuro effect to improve the sensorial perception of the space: if the walls did not have that decorative filigree the perception of the space, in itself austere, would be very different.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

The madrasas, like other buildings in the Muslim world, do not have an exterior façade; all the plastic creativity of their architects is turned to the interior on the façades of the patios; the façades of the patios of the madrasas are arranged, on a chromatic level, in three layers: the lower ceramic is polychromatic with a zellij coating in which cold, blue and green tones predominate: the body is white plaster carved in low relief with geometric decorations and kufic script, also very geometric, which have been studied much more profusely than the architecture itself. The upper part, and the woodwork, put the dark counterpoint of the chestnut tree to the black.

These three chromatic layers can be found on the façade of the Golden Courtyard of the Alhambra Palace, ordered by Mohamed V in 1369-70, clearly inspired by the façades of the courtyards of the madrasas25 . The Patio of the Maidens in the Palace of Pedro I in the Alcazar of Seville has a zellij base in its galleries26.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

We can't help but find some kind of relationship between the subtly carved surfaces of Phasic madrasas such as the Attarin and the Buanania and the profuse decoration of the Churrigueresque Baroque, or the exuberant Mexican Baroque.

Let us look at the evolution of the architectural language on the interior facades of the Marinid madrasas: in the first of these, the Seffarin (1271), we see that the patio is delimited on three of its sides by porticoes of pillars and slightly pointed horseshoe arches, whitewashed, with an alfiz and without decoration like those of the haram27 of the Almoravid and Almohad mosques28 . Nothing therefore new, beyond the syntactic operation of taking the interior porticoes of the harams to the courtyard galleries.

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Fifty years will have to pass before the characteristic image of the Moroccan madrasa that amazes us today is created; and it will be under the mandate of Emir Said Otman, and in three madrassas that are being built in Fez almost simultaneously: that of Dar al Makhzen (1320), that of Sahrij (1321-28), and that of Attarine (1323-25). It would be difficult to determine if the first one that began to be built was the one that served as a model for the others, or if all three were already preconceived in the same way; What we can say is that at that time, such novel facades appeared for the first time and with such a particular architectural language that would set the canon for the madrasas that would be built later, such as the Mariniya in Salé (1333-41), the Buianania (1350-55) in Fez, the Buianania in Mequinez, (1351-58) that of the necropolis of Chella in Rabat, or the Ben Yusef in Marrakech. (¿?-1565).

The courtyards of these madrasas will have marble tile floors, with fountains for ablutions in their centre; they have galleries on the ground floor, at least on two of their sides; the pillars extend on the upper floor - where the cells are arranged - on pilasters that articulate the entire façade, thus giving rise to a giant order a century before Leon Bautista Alberti formulated it "for the first time" in the Basilica of San Andrés in Mantua. Who would be the architect who, in the third decade of the 14th century, devised such an eloquent syntagm as that of the Madrasa Fasi? His name should be written in gold letters in the great book of the history of architecture, and how did it come about, to appear like that, almost suddenly?

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Exterior bronze doors. Large unit

In the middle of the 14th century, the characteristic type of Moroccan madrassa was already consolidated, which would not vary with the following Cherifian dynasties that succeeded the Merinid: Wattasidas and Saadis. As has been said, the creative genius will stop making new contributions to the architectural repertoire. This does not prevent the construction of magnificent buildings composed from the known elements. In other words, there will be a permanence of forms over centuries.  

Ben Yousef's madrasa in Marrakech is perhaps the most beautiful building in Morocco, and the one that could represent the pinnacle of this typological category of Moroccan madrasas: the geometric rationality of its floor plan constitutes the framework that allows the development of a functional program in an impeccable way: we would say that the form creates the stage for the function: the architectural elements are arranged by deploying a vocabulary that is the result of the purification of a process initiated in the Marinid madrasas: We could say, paraphrasing Summerson, that in Ben Yousef's madrasa the classical language of Andalusian-Maghrebi architecture reaches its zenith, and begins a mannerist era in which Maghrebi architects will continue to handle the same elements of the Andalusian-Maghrebi repertoire, perhaps varying the syntactic structures, but without creating new syntagmas.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

Another aspect that amazes us when we are in the Ben Youssef Madrasa and we let ourselves be trapped by its atmosphere is the prominence of the light, and the spatial emotions it arouses. The wisely moulded stucco walls reflect a light that is absorbed by the cedar woodwork, producing a bi-chromatic and chiaroscuro effect.

Moroccan madrasas have a special spatial richness that makes us feel good inside. They offer environments protected from the hustle and bustle of the medina that invited study, meditation and prayer in the past, and that make us experience very special aesthetic sensations today. Their clear and ordered geometry, their symmetry, create a spatial frame of reference that our psychology processes associated with feelings of orientation, security and well-being.

Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universal

But at the same time, in the Moroccan madrasas, there is a rich spatial fluidity, characteristic of Andalusian-Maghrebi architecture, (Chueca, 1979). It seems that we humans, say the neuroscientists Reber, Schwarz and Winkielman29 , prefer spatial configurations with a certain degree of complexity, which we can process easily, as is the case here.  


Aportaciones magrebíes a la arquitectura universalWe can consider the golden age of Moroccan (Maghrebi) architecture to be that between the beginning of the 12th century (Qubba Barudiyin c. 1120), and the middle of the 14th century (end of the reign of Abu Inan, 1358). During this period, interesting architectural events took place, such as the creation of a type of mosque that was properly Maghrebi, in the Almoravid period (Tremecen, Ndroma, Fez, Meknes), which was to be continued in the Almohad period (Taza, Marrakech). The creation of a type of minaret of their own, with the prototype of the Koutubia of Marrakech, and its almost replicas in Seville and Rabat, which will create a model in Andalusia and the Maghreb. A characteristic type of tapial walls marked by towers. And especially noteworthy are the Marinid madrasas, of oriental origin, but which will become a genuine Moroccan architectural type during the reigns of Abu'l Hassan and Abu Inan, and whose influence will reach the Alhambra in Granada. Also from the East, in the Almoravid period, came the muqarnas, which would become a characteristic element of the Muslim architectural repertoire.


Javier Galván, has been director of the Cervantes Institute centres in Oran and Rabat and coordinator of those in Fez and Casablanca. Professor of Islamic Architecture at the International University of Rabat (academic year 2018-19)


Bibliography and footnotes:

BERRADA, Hammad (2016): La médersa dans la ville. Editions Marsam. Rabat

CHUECA, Fernando (1979): Invariantes castizos de la arquitectura española. Editorial Dosat,     

GOLVIN, Lucien (1995): La madrasa médiévale: Architecture musulmane. Editorial Édisud. Saint-Remy-de-Provence, 1995. 
HATTSTEIN, Markus y DELIUS, Peter (Editores) (2004): Islam - Kunst und Architektur. Editorial: Tandem Verlag GmbH. Königswinter.
MARÇAIS, Georges (1957): L’architecture musulmane d’occident, Tunisie, Algérie, Maroc, Espagne et Sicile, Editorial: Arts et Métiers Graphiques. París. 

PAVÓN, Basilio (2009): Tratado de arquitectura hispanomusulmana. Editorial: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. Madrid. 

TERRASE, Charles (1928): Médersas du Maroc Editorial Morance. Paris 

TERRASE, Henry: (1932) L’Art Hispano-mauresque des origines aux XIIIe siécle. Editorial G. Van Oeste. Paris. 

TRIKI Hamid, y DOVIFAT, Alain (1990): Médersa de Marrakech: Éditions Presse Audiovisuel. París. 

1- In barely a century Islam has spread from the Indus River to the Pyrenees.

2- Understanding the concept of civilization as Ibn Khaldun understood it when he used the term asabiyyah

3- CHUECA GOITIA, Fernando: Invariant punishments of the Spanish architecture. Dosat, 1979

4- In the territories between the Atlas Mountains, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, after Diocletian's retreat (285 A.D.) there is no political and military power capable of bringing together the conglomerate of Berber tribes, except for that exercised by the Idrician dynasty in a partial way between the 8th and 10th centuries. We have scarcely received any architectural remains that we can reliably state are from that period, and in any case they would be structures that would follow the models of Cordoba or Kairouan. 

5- Although the term "Meriní" does not appear in the RAE's dictionary, its use has become widespread, to the point that if the term "benimerín", which does appear in the DRAE, traditionally prevailed in Spanish texts with respect to "meriní" - as the translator Noemí Jiménez indicates - this prevalence has almost disappeared today. In this article I use "meriní" as an adjective, since its use is imposed, but I wanted to continue using "benimerín" as a noun, following the Hispanist Mehdi Mesmoudi, who also provides anthropological reasons.   

6-RUIZ SOUZA, Juan Carlos: The palace of the lions of the Alhambra: madrasa, zäwiya and tomb of Muhammad V.Study for a debate. In Al-Qantara Magazine, CSIC, 2001 

7- As is known, the Almoravids founded Marrakech and built the first mosque in this city, which was destroyed by the Almohads. 

8. The first mosque had cruciform pillars as in Shushan. Not in vain, its origin is linked to Fatima the daughter of the rich merchant Muhammed ibn Abdallah-al-Fihri who arrived in Fez escaping a period of anarchy in Ifriqiya, specifically from the city of Kairouan, from which it takes its name.

9- The Almohads destroyed the Almoravid mosque, claiming that it was not religiously oriented as it should be: the mosque that is preserved is the one built by the Almohads, slightly displaced from the original one, from which the space of the prayer room has been recovered with the pulls of its pillars.  

10. "Ifriqiya has seen the flourishing of two schools of architecture throughout the ninth century - that of Kairouan and that of Shushan - which are clearly different despite the fact that they share the same historical and economic conditions. The first school uses exclusively antique marble columns as a support formula . In Ifriqiya. Thirteen centuries of art and architecture in Tunisia. Jamila Binous et alii. Museum without borders. Electa 2000, Madrid.

11- Its origin, perhaps in the ninth century seems to be located in the northeast of the current Iran, although very old specimens have been found in Uzbekistan.  

12- See: CALVO Susana "Las Mezquitas de pequeñas ciudades y núcleos rurales de Al-Ándalus" (The mosques of small cities and rural areas of Al-Andalus) Journal of Sciences of the Ancient Religions. 2004, X, pp. 39-63

13- Numerous examples can illustrate this: the minaret of the oratory of the Marinid necropolis of Chellah in Rabat, that of the Alaouite mosque El-Sunna in the same city, or that of the Pearl mosque in Oran. 

14-See Julio Domínguez Arjona's website, and also

15- The Giralda was for many years the highest building in Spain

16- We use the term madrassa, which is recognized by the RAE and not the widely used French term madrassa

17- As it is well known, the concept was born in Fatimid Shiite Egypt, but it will be in Sunni Baghdad where it will acquire a charter as an architectural type. Nizam al-Mulk, a statesman of Persian origin, vizier of the Seljuk empire, from 1063 to 1092, systematically created schools that can be considered precursors of madrasas in the Islamic world, and of university colleges in the Christian world, the Nizamiya madrasa, so named in his honour, being the first of its kind. It should be noted that Koranic teaching was, and continued to be, practiced in mosques. The madrasas introduced the function of accommodation for students, which was not given in the mosques. Hence, the Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fez could be considered the first educational institution, a university, not only in the Muslim world, but in the whole world, but not a madrassa stricto sensu. Madrasas will proliferate throughout the Islamic world, from east to west. They take on special importance in some cities such as Aleppo in Syria: the Zangid Nur-al-Din (1146-1173) built madrassas in this city in order to contain Shiite influence. His madrasas also acquired a high symbolic value in the fight against the Crusaders. Ayyubid Sultan Malik az-Zahir Ghazi, son of Salah-al-Din, the legendary Saladin, was also a great builder of madrasas, continuing the work of Nur-al-Din (Julia Gonnella, in Golvin,1995). His wife Daifa Khatun was the promoter of the madrasa al-Firdos, with a regular floor plan formed by square modules, a prototype of the formal reference that is exported to the Islamic West. The first madrasa in the Muslim West was built in Tunisia in 1252; and almost twenty years later the first one in Fez.  

18- Originally of an exclusively religious nature, it was extended to other disciplines: philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, physics and chemistry, etc. 

19. In the ruins of Volubilis, only 60 kilometres from Fez, there are still excellent examples of Roman domus, such as the House of Hercules, the House of Faunus and the House of Orion.

20- In Late Andalusian and Moorish domestic architecture: approach to the family model and its expression in the architecture and urbanism of the 13th to 16th centuries. CSIC. Granada, 2008 

21- The impact that the concealment of women has on domestic architecture goes to surprising extremes in the five cities of the M'zab valley, the fiefdom of the abbots, whose white and marble image inspired Le Corbusier and other avant-garde artists of the early 20th century. According to Islamic tradition, after marriage, couples will live inexorably in the house of the man's parents, who will grow up, or subdivide as their male children marry. Together, but not scrambled, the men can never see their sisters-in-law, completely covered - like all abbey women - with a white robe covering both head and face, except for one eye, which is why Juan Goytisolo in Alquibla compared them to Cyclops.       

22- The case of Rabat, whose medina has orthogonal streets, is an exception.

23- In Bologna and the definition of a type in European university architecture (In Image, morphological contexts and universities. University of Salamanca 2013. 


25. It is logical that Mohammed V took refuge in Fez, between 1359 and 1361, under the protection of the Merinid sultan Abu Salim Ibrahim, after being overthrown by a palace conspiracy that put his half-brother Ismail II on the throne. He regained the throne in 1362, reigning until his death in 1391. In this second stage he carried out important works in the Alhambra, influenced without a doubt by what he had seen in Fez.

26- Built between 1356 and 1366. Pedro I was a loyal ally of Mohamed V; there must have been craftsmen from Fez who worked in Seville and Granada, exporting the zellij technique.

27- Prayer room 

28- We presume that despite the interventions and restorations it has undergone, the porticoes correspond to the original structure. 

29- In COBURN, Alex; VARTANIAN, Oshin; and CHATTERJEE Anjan: Buildings, Beauty and the Brain: A Neuroscience of Architectural Experience. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. University of Pennsylvania, 2017