The Great Mosque of Qal’a of Bani Hammad
|Figure 1. Qalaa Beni Hammad, Algeria (1007) in a state of ruin, shows early Muslim adoption of this type of tower|
The origin of church towers and church steeples is looked at here and identified as coming as a result of early Christian encounters with Minarets in different forms.
The successful campaign lead by Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi to seize the North African Caliphate from the Aghlabite rulers established the Fatimid rule which swiftly extended to Egypt setting up the city of Al-Qahira (Cairo) in 969 CE. Later, the Fatimid princes moved to this new city making it the centre of their state whilst maintaining the rule of North Africa through their Berber vassals ; the Zirids (972–1148) in Tunisia and the Hammadids (1007- 1158) in Algeria. Unlike the Zirids who had troubled times dominated by atrocious insecurity, the Hammadids managed to achieve enduring peace enabling them to establish prosperous cities and undertake many architectural projects. Their most celebrated cities were Qala' and Bejaia, the first in the Al-Hodna region at the frontier of the Sahara and the second on the Mediterranean coast.
Hammad, the founder of the dynasty, chose the Ma'adid mountains to build his Qala' city whose fame soon reached all parts of the Maghrib, overtaking the fame of the declining city of Kairawan. Historic sources, for example, indicate that the city's fortifications exceeded 7 km, a length which provides an idea of its significant size if compared to contemporary towns of the region. According to Al-Bakri, by the end of the eleventh century the town became an important commercial centre attracting trading caravans from the whole of North Africa and as far away as Iraq, Hijaz, Egypt and Syria . The prosperity of Qala' brought also artists, masons and literary people transforming into a cultural and artistic centre. Discoveries made by French excavations from debris, fragments and kilns, suggested that Qala' was also a regional pottery centre.
|Figure 2. Qalaa beni Hammad, the tower reconstructed.|
Towards the year 1090 the Qala' was sacked by Banu Hilal and Banu Suleym tribes who destroyed also Kairawan. The Hammadid rulers and population, including the artists and craftsmen, took refuge in Bejaia, a coastal town in eastern Algeria. At some stage later, the descendants of Qala' potters migrated from Bejaia to Spain where they established the lustre industry .
The Qala' Complex
The destruction of the town in 1090 was so complete that hardly anything remains, a condition which greatly reduced the amount of information we have about this town and its monuments. Consequently, historical and archaeological studies did not go beyond the royal complex of the Qala', the major edifice of this once glamorous city. The palace consisted of the Great Mosque and the royal residential palaces clustered around it. The complex was built by Hammad around 1007, the time of the foundation of the town. The existence of a number of poems describing the magnificence of Al-Qala' make this palace equal only to those sprawling ensembles of Samarra and Madinat al-Zahra .
The Great Mosque and its Minaret
According to Paul Blanchet and General de Beylié who were the first to conduct excavations on the site, the mosque consisted of a large rectangular prayer room of typical North African T plan made of thirteen aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla wall. This wall was fitted with two gates; one for the ruler set next to the mihrab leading to the maqsura, the other gate was for public use. Three more gates were distributed on the remaining three sides. The maqsura itself was of an unprecedented size extending over an area of five naves long and four aisles deep. The mosque was equipped with a courtyard of mediocre size surrounded by arcade and in the north western arcade an ablution area (Muidha) was fitted.
|Figure 3. St. Abbondio Church at Como, Lambardy, Italy (1063-1095).|
The most important element of the mosque, however, is its minaret. Set at the end of the courtyard at the centre of the northern wall opposite the Qibla wall, in similar fashion to that found in the Great Mosque of Quairawan, the minaret is the only remaining structure of the whole town. With a huge size of 25 meters, it is indeed one of the largest minarets of the Muslim world consisting of six sections of equal size .
The main decoration, in the form of a tri-partite design, is found in the southern façade, the remaining sides were left simple and blind. In the centre of this façade a deep arched niche running from the base to the top section was inserted. At its foot a rectangular entrance framed with a semicircular arch was pierced while in the upper sections arched windows were arranged one above the other displaying the number of floors (sections) composing the minaret. The second section was decorated by a blind sinqfoil arch raised on slender columns which stood next to the wall of the central niche . In the third and fourth sections the central niche was flanked by smaller and narrower deep niches, one on each side. In the two upper sections the central windows were flanked by arched screens.
The above decorative scheme, especially the use of narrow deep niches seems to dominate much of the surface decoration of the region during this period. We find it in the residential palaces of the Qala' , especially in the Al-Manar and Al-Bahr Palaces. It was also traced in the gate of the Mosque of Mehdiya (Tunisia) built by the Zirids in 961 C.E. Other sources traced the first appearance of this type of decorative niches for the external decoration of facades to Warka Palace in Mesopotamia . Others related it to the palace of Fairuz Abad in Iran where similar niches decorated the whole height of the facades .
|Figure 4. Tower of St.Martin, Spain (12th century)|
Architectural and Historical Merits of the Minaret
The form and size of the minaret of Qala' and various types of arches used on the frames of these windows including the trifoil, cinqfoil, semi-circular and polylobed arches later formed the character of the Romanesque and Gothic towers in the West. This can be seen in many examples such as St.Abbondio church in Italy (1063-1095) , Abbey aux Hommes at St. Ettiene (1066-1160), St Martin in Spain (12th century) , St.Edmund at Bury in England (1120) and many other ecclestical buildings . In all cases, the influence of Qala' Beni Hammad is unquestionable and one can easily establish that European trade links with North Africa must have been responsible for the transfer of this architectural element.
Historians established that it was adopted in Europe after the second half of the 11th century, some fifty years after the Qala', in Romanesque buildings. Its implant at or near the gate of the church/cathedral or castle was another imitation of Muslim practise although different from the case of the Qala'. This may suggest that the crusaders were behind this choice. Evidence shows the close resemblance between the Romanesque/Gothic tower and the Qala' minaret in both design and aesthetics.
Male  found that these minarets were a major influence in western Gothic towers. In his opinion, Muslim minarets in general illustrate two main characteristics. The lower part of the minaret consists of a strong blind base with little or no decoration at all. However, the higher part is very graceful and richly decorated as outlined above. According to Warton , the spire was never used till the Muslim mode took place. Although Muslims used cupolas (domes), the notion of a spire was brought from the East. Pyramidical structures were very common there and spiral ornaments were, and still today, the fashionable decorations of their mosques in areas such as Iran, Anatolia and India. In England, there was no spire before 1200 and the first being of St. Paul finished in 1221  . Meanwhile, Briggs found a strong influence of Muslim minarets on European towers especially the Egyptians. The minarets of Al-Jeyushi Mosque (Cairo) were particularly influential in Italy and England.
|Figure 5. Tower of St. James at Bury St.Edmund (1120)|
"Mohammedan minarets of the graceful type found, especially, in Cairene buildings of the 14th and 15th centuries may have influenced the design of the later Renaissance Campanili of Italy, and hence some of Wren's fine city steeples" .
Square shaped minarets continued to ninfluence Euroepan towers as seen in Piza la Signora (1299-1314) in Italy. The example of the Ducan Piza, Italy is particularly striking if it is compared to the Great Ummayyad Mosque in Damascus. Here we find not only the gradual progress of the square shaped tower but also used the bulbus dome at the end, and the arcade of the cloister on which the tower emerges from shows similar visual and structural combination that was used in the Ummayad mosque. Similarly we find the graceful circular form minaret imitated in Germany such as in the holy Apostles cathedral (1190) at Cologne, in Amins cathedral (1009-1239), and in Worms cathedral (11th-13th centuries) at Rhine.
The other area of influence of the Qala' was reported in its impact on the development of the next generations of minarets of North Africa which are locally known as "Soumaa". Close examination of minarets such as that of the Kutubia Mosque (1164-1184), Tour Hassan in Morocco, and La Giralda (1184-1196) in Spain reveals common features such as the square shape, the use of brick work and the mutifoil arches arround window frames although here the minarets are more graceful than in the Qala'a. Jubir, the architect of these three minarets must have seen the Qalaa. We find similar characteristics in the minaret of Mehdia Mosque at Telemcan (Algeria) which was built much later in 1172. We find also a strong evidence of the influence of these four graceful minarets on the generation of towers that appeared in Europe at a later time. The twin towers of Cefalu Cathedral in Sicily (1131-1200, and the tower of Pomposa Cathedral in Spain amply illustrate this.
In addition to the above decorative innovation, excavations unveiled plaster pieces and fragments of muqarnas which thought to have belonged to the ceiling, probably part of a dome or the transitional sections (squinches). This is indeed a remarkable discovery putting the first appearance of this decorative technique to a much earlier time than previously thought. This raises the question of origins which continue to be mysterious favouring the hypothesis of local inventions . It was from here that these stalactite forms spread to Moroccan, Andalusian and Sicilian vaults.
 both Berber tribes from Sanhaja
 Qala' in Arabic means citadel.
 Al-Bakri, ‘Description de l'Afrique Septentrionale', 1911-1912 edition and translation of Slane, 2nd edition, Algiers, p.49.
 Frothingham, A.W. (1951),‘Lustreware of Spain', The Hispanic Society of America, New York.
 Ettinghausen, R. et al. (1987), ‘The Art and Architecture of Islam: 650-1250', Yale University Press.
 de Beylié, L. (1909), ‘La Kalaa des Beni Hammad; une capitale berbère du 11eme siècle', Paris, pp.38-53.
 Marcais, G. (1954), `l'Architecture Musulmane d'occident', Arts et Metiers Graphiques, Paris, p.84.
 Saladin, H. (1905), ‘Deuxieme note sur les Monuments arabes de la Kalaa des Beni Hammad', Bulletin archeologique, p.189.
 Dieulafoy (1889) ‘l'Art antique de la Perse', vol.4, Paris, plates 9,10,11.
 Male, E (1928) `Art et Artistes du Moyen Age', Librairie Armand Colin, Paris
 Wart on, T. et al. (1808) `Essays on Gothic Architecture', 3rd edition. London.
 Ibid. Note that Warton is referring to the first St. Paul which was consumed by the fire of London.
 Briggs, , M. S. (1931) `Architecture', in T. Arnold et al. (eds), The Legacy of Islam, Oxford University Press. pp.155-179.
 Ibid., p. 174.
 Ettinghausen, R. et al. (1987), op cit.
 Marcais, G. (1954), op cit.p.52.
by: FSTC Limited, Mon 14 February, 2005