Kutubiyya Courtyard

Ṣaḥn de Koutoubia, صحن الكتبيا

Details

Catalogue: 
North African Gardens
Author: 
Abbey Stockstill
Country: 
Morocco
City: 
Marrakesh
Dates: 
early 12th century

Garden Description

The twelfth-century mosque known today as the Kutubiyya was built as part of the Almohad caliph ʿAbd al-Muʾmin’s campaign to renovate Marrakesh after its conquest. The current iteration of the mosque is actually the second Almohad prayer hall built on the site (the earlier one was found to have an inaccurate qibla), and the third structure overall, as the mosque stands on the remains of an Almoravid palace. The mosque’s courtyard (ṣaḥn), therefore, was planned over several preexisting elements that may inform its current configuration.

The courtyard as we find it today is a rectangular enclosure that abuts the northern wall of the mosque. The ground is tiled in green and white zellij tilework, with twenty-two young orange trees organized into three longitudinal rows, with a round ablution fountain set into a square tilework bed at the center. A door on the southern wall of the courtyard leads directly into the central aisle of the mosque. Four of the outermost aisles on either side of the mosque extend northwards to form annexes flanking the eastern and western sides of the courtyard. A triangular gallery is connected to the mosque’s minaret at the northeastern corner. This awkward triangular space is the result of the second mosque’s qibla realignment, since the outer wall of the gallery had originally formed the qibla wall of the earlier structure.

The existence of a garden within the Kutubiyya’s courtyard can only be attested back to the eighteenth century, although a 1952 excavation of the area revealed the existence of another rectangular courtyard that likely belonged to the Almoravid palace, in which two water channels created a quadripartite space planted with vegetation. They were fed by the same palace cisterns that would later feed the mosque’s ablution fountain. The early twelfth-century date of the site makes this garden the earliest four-part garden in Morocco, and one of the earliest in the Islamic world (Ruggles, Islamic Gardens and Landscapes, 164).