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Aghlabid Basins. Image courtesy Jamila Binous, “Discover Islamic Art,” Museum with No Frontiers (MWNF).

Aghlabid Basins

North African Gardens
Abbey Stockstill


Key dates: 860–62 (Aghlabid foundation)


The Aghlabid basins, part of an extensive network of pools located just outside the medieval medina of Qayrawān, were constructed in the middle of the ninth century during the reign of the Aghlabid emir Ahmad ibn Muhammad. However, the commission for the basins came from his son, Prince Abu Ibrahim Ahmad, who placed an emancipated slave, Khalaf al-Fata, in charge of the basins’ construction.

The pools were once part of a large catchment system (see Hydraulics) constructed to collect runoff from rain and the nearby Marguellil wadi to supply Qayrawān’s residents with enough drinking water, as the city itself was not built on a river or estuary. At least fifteen pools made up the original system, though today only two remain. The largest was a reservoir in the shape of a forty-eight-sided polygon measuring 128 m in diameter, which had at its center an octagonal tower topped by a domed kiosk intended as a viewing platform and a place of relaxation for the ruler. This large pool was fed by a much smaller seventeen-sided polygonal pool called al-Fisqiya (“the reservoir”), where water collected until its quantity was sufficient to be transferred to the larger basin via a small outlet (esarh). Each pool was lined with buttresses made of rubble to protect it against leakage and help withstand the pressure created by, in the larger pool, 53,000 m3 of water.

Barrel-vaulted cisterns connected to the large basin collected filtered water underground as a reserve in times of drought, a frequent problem because of limited rainfall and the Marguellil’s unpredictability. After Qayrawān fell under Fatimid jurisdiction in the tenth century, the Fatimid caliph al-Muʿizz sponsored the construction of an aqueduct to bring water from the Chrechira Springs, located forty kilometers west of the city, to supplement these sources.



  • Historical, Medieval geographies (al-Bakri, “Kitāb al-Masālik wa al-Mamālik”)