Saadian Tombs. Photograph by Abbey Stockstill, ca. 2012.

Saadian Tombs

 
Catalogue
North African Gardens
City
Marrakesh
Country
Morocco
Dates
1557
Author
Abbey Stockstill

Description

Key dates: 1557–65 (Saadian foundation); 1591–1603 (expansion); 1677 (closure); 1917 (reopened to public)

 

The Saadian tombs, originally constructed in the mid-sixteenth century under Sultan Sidi Abdullah al-Ghalib, are located in the northwestern corner of the Saadian qaṣba in Marrakesh, directly abutting the medieval medina. The mausoleum had been originally constructed in honor of his father, the first Saadian sultan Moulay Muhammad al-Sheikh, though it was later expanded under Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur between 1591 and 1603.

A 10 m2 pavilion encompassing Abdullah al-Ghalib’s original domed qubba, as well as tombs of Muhammad al-Sheikh and Ahmad al-Mansur’s mother, is located in the center of the complex’s northern wall. Ahmad al-Mansur also built a second mausoleum along the western elevation nearly twice as large as the other structure, measuring 15 m by 23 m, which houses a small mosque and a lecture hall in addition to the tombs of al-Mansur and his family members.

The perimeter of the entire complex is defined by a garden measuring 85 m by 25 m. An entrance in the western wall provides access to the tombs and their gardens; it can be reached from the street through a narrow, open-air corridor, thirteen meters in length and parallel to the western wall that extends toward the south, creating an interstitial space between the public street and the private, sacred space of the mausolea. A tiled walkway winds through the length of the space, while outdoor graves of royal servants and soldiers are interspersed among lush vegetation. The northern wall was likely built behind an Almohad-era mosque, but the other three walls of the complex are surrounded by dense residential areas.

It is thought that the Saadian tombs were inspired by other dynastic necropolises in the Maghrib, particularly the Merinid necropolis at the Chellah. The architectural ornamentation and use of ceramic flooring in open air spaces certainly recalls the earlier site; however, the location of the Saadian tombs within a royal residential complex surrounded by a densely urbanized area makes the latter mausolea simultaneously more present and yet more private.