Leave the busy streets of Marrakesh for a day and venture off into the Atlas Mountains – what you will find may certainly surprise you. Tucked away in the vast North African mountain range is a minor tribute to what was at one time the most significant spiritual center of the glorious Almohad dynasty – the Tin Mal Mosque (or Tinmel Mosque). It was once a vital stronghold hidden in the mountains with political, military and religious significance, but it stands in slight ruin and devoid of many tourist visitors; all of these reasons you should take a visit.
The Tin Mal Mosque can now be found just off of the Tizi ‘n’ Test road that crosses the High Atlas Mountains; it’s about one-and-a-half hours from Marrakesh. It offers the unique opportunity for visitors to look into what was once a magnificent mosque.
The Grand History
Tin Mal Mosque’s intricate history is one facet that makes it such an interesting spot to visit. Its construction began in 1125 by Ibn Toumert, a Masmuda Berber who began a tribal movement (Almohad) against the Almoravid dynasty. This movement was based on Toumert’s teachings of Islam that had one main principle: tawhid, the uniqueness of God. After declaring himself Mahdi (the saviour figure in Islam), Toumert fled Marrakesh when he realized his life was being threatened by the Almoravids. He and his supporters set up camp on the village of Tin Mal among the Atlas Mountains. Once there, his followers began construction of the Tin Mal Mosque, intended as a Koranic school (tinmal means “school” in ancient Berber) and as his family’s mausoleum. From this small start, an Almohad state began emerging in the village around the mosque and so the structure was fortified to house the state treasury.
Completed only 30 years later by his successor Abd el Moumen, Tin Mal Mosque’s historic relevance comes from the fact that it was the birthplace of the Almohad dynasty. It was from here that Toumert began a siege on Marrakesh which he sadly never witnessed as the city only fell to the Almohads in 1147, five years after his death.
After the conquering of Marrakesh, Tin Mal lost its strategic importance and the new city became the base from which the glorious Almohad dynasty led a number of invasion campaigns to extend its empire to what is today all of Morocco, Portugal, southern Spain, northern Libya, Algeria, Gibraltar, and Tunisia.
The mosque only became relevant again when it served as a place of retreat for the Almohads when the Merenids (of the famed Merenid Tombs) seized control of Morocco in the 13th century. In 1276, the Merenids captured Tin Mal leaving only the mosque standing and killing the entire population. From that point onward, Tin Mal Mosque became the final resting place of the fallen dynasty.
A Spiritual Home
Although Tin Mal Mosque’s strategic relevance was brief, its historic significance is longstanding and comes from the fact that it was the spiritual home of a long-standing dynasty which founded an important religious movement. Although today visitors will find the mosque in a remote area, the village of Tin Mal once housed a vast number of Mohamed Ibn Toumert’s followers and it was the main site from which the Mahdi professed his teachings.
Even after the Merenid’s seizure of Tin Mal, the mosque remained the heartland of the Almohads and its rulers continued to come in pilgrimage to the village to visit their predecessor’s tombs and pray at the mosque. And even more incredible is the mosque’s persistent influence over time. More than two centuries after the downfall of the Almohad dynasty, the historian Ibn Khaldun visited the site and discovered Koranic readers employed at the tombs – a clear sign of the spiritual influence of Tourmet’s teachings and the mosque on local Berbers.
A Unique Experience
Besides the incredible history that Tin Mal Mosque holds within its walls, it also provides a truly unique experience especially to non-Muslim visitors as it is only one of two mosques in Morocco that allows non-Muslim travelers to explore the interior of a traditional mosque.
Fashioned after the Great Mosque of Taza, near Fez, the once magnificent mosque is shaped in a traditional Almohad design with a T-shaped plan that leads toward the mihrab (the semi-circular niche that is to face Mecca) at its end. Sadly, the mosque fell into complete decay over time losing most of its interior and eventually its roof. Extensive restoration began in the early 1990s which have seen new additions being built to renovate the ancient structure such as supporting pillars. These have been purposefully left undecorated so that visitors can distinguish between the original structures and the renovated parts.
Despite these renovations, however, the mosque remains roofless which only adds to its intriguing charm. The roof, which has doubled as a minaret, is thus accessible to visitors. You may climb onto it to get a good look of the prayer hall of the mosque – again, a truly unique opportunity for non-Muslin visitors. The mosque’s numerous intricate arches will also create the perfect playground for any photographer.
Although hidden away in the Atlas Mountains 100km from Marrakesh, Tin Mal Mosque is a true Moroccan gem that simply can’t be missed. Its intricate ancient history combined with its charming architecture create a unique experience for all types of visitors who wish to take a day trip to the mountains and enjoy a reflective day immersed in history and intrigue.
Ready to Go?
If you’d like to visit more off-the-beaten-path places and have your special trip planned by experts, contact the JBT team to start planning. We’ve been in Morocco for over a decade offering top-quality authentic experiences to worldwide travelers.
Tin Mal Mosque by Mariya Foteva; Commissioned by Journey Beyond Travel
This article was co-authored with Maria Inês Pinto, a young Portuguese freelancer born with a passion for writing and travel.She has spent her life hopping around different countries, having lived in Canada, the US, India and Ireland. Now residing in Portugal, she is planning to move to Mozambique soon to pursue her third passion: humanitarian work. In her free time, she travels and writes about her adventures on her blog.