A Little History
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Construction on the Koutoubia Mosque began around 1150, shortly after the Almohad conquest of Marrakesh. Its location had historical significance – it was the site of a late 11th century kasbah, the Dar al Hajar, home of the Almoravid leader, Ali ibn Yusuf.
The Almoravids, previous rulers of Marrakesh, were staunch enemies of the Almohads. After the Almohad conquest of Marrakesh, the new leaders set about the complete destruction of all religious monuments and significant buildings in the city, believing the buildings to be tainted as they considered the Almoravids to be heretics.
The original mosque was completed in 1157, but there was a miscalculation in the construction that meant its orientation was incorrect – all mosques are supposed to point in the direction of Mecca, indicated by the mihrab, the prayer niche. Although a relatively minor issue – because the faithful could correct this under the direction of the imam by turning to face the correct direction – a decision was made to build a second mosque, the present day Koutoubia Mosque.
The two mosques were identical in everything aside from orientation, and they coexisted for 30 years, the original mosque most likely serving as a type of annexe to house the large religious population. Eventually the older mosque fell into ruin and was demolished. Its existence can be seen by the bricked-up spaces on the northwest wall where there were connecting doors, while excavations confirm the misalignment of the original structure.
The Koutoubia Mosque is known by several different names, including Jami’ al-Kutubiyah, Kutubiya Mosque, and Kutubiyyin Mosque. Its various names and associated spellings are based on the Arabic word, koutoubiyyin, which means bookseller – the mosque’s name is translated as ‘The Bookseller’s Mosque’. This is because originally up to 100 booksellers worked in the souk at its base