Almoravid Koubba

Historic Building in Marrakesh

Marrakesh, Almoravid Koubba
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Michal Osmenda

The Almoravid Qubba,  is a small monument in Marrakech, Morocco. It was erected by the Almoravid dynasty in the early 12th century. It is notable for its extraordinary decoration and for being one of the only remnants of Almoravid architecture in Marrakech.

Where is the Almoravid Koubba located?

The Almoravid Koubba is next to the Museum of Marrakech and about 40 meters south of the mosque of Ben Youssef.

History of Almoravid Koubba

It is the only surviving example of Almoravid architecture in Marrakesh. It was built in either 1117 or, more likely, in 1125, by the Almoravid amir Ali ibn Yusuf.  Most scholars today believe that it belonged to the nearby Ben Youssef Mosque, the main mosque of the city at the time, and that it was a pavilion used for ritual ablutions before prayer. The mosque itself, also originally built by Ali ibn Yusuf, has since been completely rebuilt in more recent centuries. This type of structure for providing water near a mosque was also known as a mida’a (Arabic: ميضأة; “ablutions facility”) and is found in later mosques in Marrakech.

The existence of the Qubba was first documented by French scholars in 1947, with architectural historian Boris Maslow publishing notes about in 1948. In the following years, more thorough excavations and studies were carried out under the direction of Henri Terrasse and Jacques Meunié. Due to the rising ground level and the construction of other structures around it, over half of the Qubba was buried under 7-8 meters of debris. The French scholars refrained from any significant reconstruction or restoration, leaving the structure essentially as found, and published their findings in the 1950s In the decades since its excavation it has become a historic monument and tourist attraction.

Description of Almoravid Koubba

The dome (qubba) tops a rectangular building, measuring 7.35 by 5.45 meters, sheltering a water basin.  The whole structure is 12 meters tall. Materials used include stone, brick, and cedar wood. The interior is richly decorated with carved floral and vegetal patterns (pine cones, palms and acanthus leaves), palmette/seashell shapes, and calligraphy. Its cupola has been compared to the domes of the Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Bab al-Mardum Mosque in Toledo (both older buildings from Spanish Ummayyad architecture). In the corners, between the wings of the cupola and the rectangular outer walls, are four miniature cupolas carved with some of the earliest muqarnas decoration in Morocco. Since muqarnas decoration would have originated in Abbasid architecture in the Middle East, at least one scholar has suggested that this combination of Cordoban Ummayyad and Abbasid motifs was a deliberate stylistic choice by the Almoravid ruler to invoke a shared legacy and heritage with these caliphates. Around the interior of the pavilion is an Arabic inscription, now badly damaged, which details the foundation of the structure and cites the name of Ali ibn Yusuf and the date of construction, although the year of the date is unfortunately unreadable (leading to scholarly debate about the exact date).

The Koubba is a 12th-century building in Morocco that is the only surviving Almoravid structure in the country. It was renovated in the 16th century and was later covered by an outbuilding attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque. The Koubba was discovered during excavation work in 1948 and can now be accessed by a flight of stairs. It is known for its ornate dome, decorative windows, and intricate interior motifs, including acanthus leaves, palms, pine cones, and calligraphy from the Quran. The Koubba was used for ritual washing before prayer and has an inscription in ancient cursive Maghrebi script that reads, “I was created for science and prayer.”

The Almoravid Koubba appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Marrakesh!

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Visiting Almoravid Koubba

Address: Almoravid Koubba, Derb Souk Cheria, Marrakesh, Morocco
Duration: 20 minutes

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