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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture



Islamic dynasty that ruled parts of northwest Africa and Spain from 1130 to 1269. Muhammad ibn Tumart (d. 1130), a Masmuda Berber, preached a faith based on the Koran and the Sunna, stressing above all the oneness of God (Arab. tawḥīd), a doctrine from which the movement took the name al-Muwaḥḥidūn (“believers in the oneness of God”). Ibn Tumart, who declared himself also as the infallible Mahdi, was able to unite disparate groups of Berbers and in 1121 began an insurrection against the Almoravid rulers with the help of the Berbers of the Atlas Mountains. After the conquest of the Anti-Atlas and Sus region, he emigrated to Tinmal (Tinmallal), south of Marrakesh in the High Atlas, an event likened to the Prophet's Hegira from Mecca to Medina in 622. A defeat near Marrakesh temporarily stopped the rise of the Almohads, and even Ibn Tumart's lieutenant and successor, ῾Abd al-Mu῾min (r. 1130–63), could not conquer his arch-enemy, ῾Ali ibn Yusuf (r. 1106–42). After the Almoravid's death, however, ῾Abd al-Mu῾min conquered all of Morocco and Islamic Spain and made Marrakesh his capital. In 1152 he annexed the Hammadid state in Algeria and in 1160 put an end to Zirid rule in Tunisia. For the first time the whole Maghrib was united under one dynasty, although some keepers of pure Almohad dogma opposed Ibn Tumart's Mu῾minid successors.

Abu Ya῾qub Yusuf I (r. 1163–84) was killed in battle against the Christians near Santarém (Portugal), but his successor Abu Yusuf Ya῾qub (r. 1184–99) routed the Castilians near Alarcos in 1195 and took the epithet al-Mansur (“the Victorious”). Muhammad al-Nasir (r. 1199–1214) also fought the Christian kings of the peninsula, but he was decisively defeated at Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), and the decline of the Almohad empire began. After Abu Yusuf Ya῾qub II (r. 1214–24), Almohad shaykhs began to appoint the ruler, but a Spanish pretender, Idris I al-Ma῾mun (r. 1229–32), supported by 500 Christian knights, conquered Marrakesh, massacred the shaykhs and condemned the Almohad dogma of the infallibility of the Mahdi and the memory of Ibn Tumart. In 1228 the Hafsid governor of Tunisia threw off the authority of the Almohad caliphs, and in 1269 the Marinid dynasty destroyed the remnants of the Almohad–Mu῾minid empire in the west.

The Almohad courts at Marrakesh and Seville were centers of Islamic learning, especially philosophy, and art. Typical Almohad fortresses (see Military architecture and fortification, §II), such as the walls of Fez, Rabat and Marrakesh, have brick or rammed earth curtains with rectangular towers and cut stone gates with splendid decoration. Perhaps the finest is the Udayas Gate, Rabat (after 1191; see Military architecture and fortification, fig. 2), which has a richly carved horseshoe arch flanked by projecting salients. The Almohads replaced the Almoravid mosque in Marrakesh with the first Kutubiyya Mosque (1147–58; fell into ruin at an unknown date; see Architecture, §V, D, 4). The second Kutubiyya (begun 1158), an identical extension of the first slightly skewed to the south, has a large prayer-hall with 17 naves perpendicular to the qibla. An aisle along the qibla wall has five cupolas, soberly decorated with muqarnas. The minaret, a square tower standing more than 60 m high at the juncture of the two mosques, is decorated with network panels of foliate arches. It served as a model for virtually all the later minarets in the region. The first Kutubiyya Mosque was equipped with an extraordinary wooden Maqsura (destr.), a screened enclosure that apparently rose from the floor when the ruler entered it, and other mosques (e.g. Fez, Andalusiyyin) have preserved contemporary minbars. The mosque in Tinmal (1153–4; see color pl. 1:II, fig. 2 and Architecture, fig. 29) is notable for its careful geometric planning, fine lambrequin arches and muqarnas cupolas along the qibla wall and short minaret unusually placed over the mihrab. Of the new congregational mosque (1172–6) in Seville (see Seville, §I), only the courtyard, the stately minaret (La Giralda) and a portal survive in the present cathedral. After the victory at Alarcos, Ya῾qub al-Mansur transformed a Moroccan coastal fortress into a city, which he called ribāṭ al-fatḥ (“the fortress of victory”; see Rabat). The huge but unfinished congregational mosque, known as the mosque of Hasan, preserves the stump of a minaret planned to be 90 m high. Other important Almohad mosques include the mosque at Taza (1142) and the Qasba Mosque (1195) in Marrakesh.


2. Almohad mosque, interior, Tinmal, Morocco, 1153–4; photo credit: Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom; see Almohad

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Several copies of the Koran, attributable to the period, show that paper began to replace parchment during this period. Bookbindings with strapwork designs include an engraved, gilded and colored binding for a Koran manuscript dated 1178 (Rabat, Bib. Gén. & Archvs, 12609) and a magnificent multi-volume Koran copy (London, BL, Or. 13192) penned in Marrakesh in 1256 by the penultimate Almohad sultan Abu Hafs ῾Umar al-Murtada (r. 1248–66); this binding is the earliest dated example of gold tooling. The only illustrated manuscript attributable to the period is a copy (Rome, Vatican, Bib. Apostolica, MS. arab. 368) of the romance Bayad and Riyad (see Illustration, §IV, B), probably produced c.1200 in Morocco or Spain. The cast-bronze chandelier in the Andalusiyyin Mosque in Fez is the earliest surviving from North Africa; it probably dates from the reign of Ya῾qub al-Nasir (1199–1214); a contemporary one in the Qarawiyyin Mosque was made from a Spanish church bell taken as booty. A cast-bronze fountain spout in the form of a lion (Paris, Louvre, 7883) engraved with textile-like patterns is also attributed to the period. Luxury silk textiles (see Textiles, §II, A, 3), most preserved in Christian contexts, were used for clothing and furnishing and, like bindings, show a trend towards geometricization. Perhaps the most famous is the splendid banner (3.3×2.2 m; Burgos, Real Monasterio de las Huelgas, Mus. Telas & Preseas) thought to have been an Almohad trophy won at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa by Ferdinand III, king of Castile and León (r. 1217–52; see Textiles, §II, B, 1).


  • Enc. Islam/2: “Muwaḥḥidūn,” “Abū Ya῾ḳūb Yūsūf,” “Abū Yūsūf Ya῾ḳūb,” “Ibn Tūmart,” “Marrākūsh” [Marrakesh]
  • H. Basset and H. Terrasse: “Sanctuaires et forteresses almohades,” Hespéris, iv (1924), pp. 9–91, 181–203; v (1925), pp. 311–76; vi (1926), pp. 102–270; vii (1927), pp. 117–71, 287–345; also as Sanctuaires et forteresses almohades (Paris, 1932)
  • H. Terrasse: “La Grande Mosquée almohade de Séville,” Mémorial Henri Basset, ii (Paris, 1928), pp. 249–66
  • H. Terrasse: La Mosquée des Andalous à Fès (Paris, 1942)
  • H. Terrasse: La Grande Mosquée de Taza (Paris, 1943)
  • H. Terrasse: Histoire du Maroc des origines à l’établissement du Protectorat français, i (Casablanca, 1949)
  • L. Torres Balbás: Arte almohade, arte nazarí, arte mudéjar (1949), iv of A. Hisp. (Madrid, 1947–81)
  • J. Meunié and H. Terrasse: Recherches archéologiques à Marrakech (Paris, 1952)
  • J. Caillé: La Mosquée de Hasan à Rabat (Paris, 1954)
  • A. Huici Miranda: Historia política del Imperio Almohade (Tetouan, 1956–7)
  • J. Meunié and H. Terrasse: Nouvelles recherches archéologiques à Marrakech (Paris, 1957)
  • G. Deverdun: Marrakech: Des origines à 1912, 2 vols. (Rabat, 1959–66)
  • R. Le Tourneau: The Almohad Movement in North Africa in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Princeton, NJ, 1969)
  • C. Ewert and J.-P. Wisshak: Forschungen zur almohadischen Moschee, 2 vols. (Mainz, 1981–4)
  • M. Attahiri: Kriegsgedichte zur Zeit der Almohaden (Frankfurt am Main, Berne, New York and Paris, 1990)
  • Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain (exh. cat., ed. J. D. Dodds; Granada, Alhambra; New York, Met.; 1992)
  • H. Hattstein and P. Delius, eds.: Islamic Art and Architecture (Cologne, 2000), pp. 244–71 [good pictures]
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