Hand-drawn illustration of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh.
Can you imagine a caravan coming across Morocco hundreds of years ago? Rising up in front of weary travelers is a tower. Prayer time and hot quiet desert air allows the singsong chant of the muezzin drift out to meet them. Such sights and sounds have greeted travelers as they neared Marrakech for more than 700 years. Sitting in the center of the city is the Koutoubia Mosque and minaret.

The Koutoubia Mosque has quite a history. Its name comes from the Arabic word for “bookseller”. The selling of manuscripts and books was commonplace and took place nearby. This is an interesting, namely because even in the 1200s books were unknown in the Christian world.

A Bit of History

When the Almoravid ruled Marrakech, a mosque had been built upon this same site. When the Almohads captured the area; however, they destroyed much of the city along with the mosque. No Almohad would ever consider praying in a building constructed by his enemy. A new mosque was erected on the site in the Almohad style and parts of the present day mosque do date back to the era of sultan Abd el-Moumen. A problem with the orientation of the prayer niche to Mecca resulted in a second mosque being built to correct this error. Thus, Koutoubia is a double mosque. As a hall-type structure, it covers 58,000 square feet or 5400 square meters. Twenty-five thousand Muslims can pray within its walls. Koutoubia Mosque has 112 columns and 17 aisles. Leftover from the Almoravid mosque that had been destroyed earlier is an ornately carved pulpit from Almoravid sultan Ali ben Youssef. This Moorish mosque is reputed to be a pinnacle of Almohad art. Spanish and Moorish influence can be seen in the shapes of the arches, cupolas and painted ceilings. Another fact unique to this mosque is it was built during the reign of one ruler. Other comparable mosques, such as The Great Mosque in Cordoba took over 200 years to be completed.

A Bit of Myth

Supposedly, the minaret of Koutoubia Mosque was to be built with three gold globes. Ones topping the tower today are composed of copper. The Wife of sultan Yacoub el-Mansour broke her fast during Ramadan. To pay her penance, she had her gold jewelry melted and made into a fourth sphere. Completed during the reign of her husband, this unique minaret was quite a feat of engineering for its time. Standing 221 feet (69 meters) high, a ramp is built around the tower so that the muezzin could rise to the top. Six rooms are placed, one on top another make up the interior. Minaret towers, Giralda in Seville and Hassan in Rabat, are modeled after Koutoubia.

Non-Muslim visitors can admire the mosque from the outside, but are not allowed to enter the interior areas.

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