“Today’s Mahdiya may seem small, but during its heyday Mahdiya was the Fatimid capital of North Africa and the successful home base that led to the conquest of Cairo, which then ultimately led to the city’s demise as Cairo took over as the capital of the Fatimid empire” – excerpt from Tunisia.com
Please also read related article: Great Moments in Ismaili History: The Establishment of the Fatimid Caliphate
Al-Mahdiya was the first capital of the Fatimids, and was built in 913 by the 11th Ismaili Imam/first Fatimid Caliph, al-Mahdi. The city functioned as a port from which the Fatimids launched their campaign to conquer Egypt, which they did in 969. Thereafter, the capital shifted to Cairo.
Architecturally the most significant building in the town is the Great Mosque built in 916. This is the earliest surviving example of a Fatimid mosque. The design of the mosque differs considerably from earlier North African mosques as it had no minarets and only one monumental entrance giving it the appearance of a fortress rather than a mosque. It is believed that the entrance was reserved for the Fatimid Imam, his family and court. The other features of the mosque included a courtyard with single arcades on all four sides, and a sanctuary with a T-shaped arrangement of nave and transepts.
Simerg is indebted to Glyn Willett of the United Kingdom for providing the following photos of the Fatimid port, the ruins of the city’s fortifications and the al-Mahdiya mosque. Willett maintains a strong presence on the Virtual Tourist Web site, and operates under the user name Willetsworld. Many of the photos produced below may be clicked for enlargements.
On the southern coast of the peninsula are the remains of the Old Harbour which was used by the Fatimids and, much earlier, by the Romans. It measures 126m (138yds) by 57m (62yds). Very little remains of the Fatimid port. On both sides of the narrow entrance channel, 15m (16 yds) long, there were two Fatimid watch towers with a chain suspended between them. The base of these towers are still there, but it is hard to imagine what it must have looked like. Further along the coast are remains of Fatimid fortifications (see below).
Also on the southern side of the peninsula are the remains of the original Fatimid walls that were built during the 10th century. The museum beside the Skifa el-Khala gives some idea of how the fortifications and the rest of Mahdiya would have looked during the Fatimid times. The first floor of the museum has a reconstruction plan.
Great Mosque of Al-Mahdiya
The Great Mosque was built by the founder of the town, al-Mahdi. It was the first Fatimid mosque modeled on the Sidi Oqba Mosque in Kairouan. It was connected on two sides with the town walls and when these were blown up by the Spaniards the mosque too was destroyed with the exception of the north front. A temporary building was erected to replace it but this was found to be in danger of collapse and was pulled down in the 1960s. The Great Mosque was ‘carefully’ rebuilt on its old site in accordance with the original plans. However, visitors to the site generally observe that “it was a sad attempt to reconstruct the mosque of the Fatimids.”
Stretching over slight hills from one side of the peninsula to the other near the lighthouse is a large cemetery. Here are a number of 10th century Shiite tombs and remains of cisterns
Ajdabiyah Fortress Palace, Libya
Photographs and source of text: http://www.temehu.com/islamic-tourism-and-mosques.htm
The Ajdabiyah area appears to have been a major Islamic centre during the early Islamic period in Libya, especially around the 10th century, when the Fatimids began to arrive in what is now Libya. Two ruins remain that date from the Fatimid dynasty: a spectacular qasr, or fortress, and a mosque. The buildings have been documented by travelers throughout history and were excavated in the 1950s and 1970s respectively.
The Ajdabiyah Fortress Palace was most probably commissioned by the 2nd Fatimid Caliph, Imam al-Qaim, during the late 930’s. It has a rectangular base 33 metres long and 25 metres wide, with circular corner towers, and with more towers in between each two corners. The palace is regarded as one of the most important 10th century monuments in the whole of North Africa. It has a grand entrance complex, leading to a central courtyard 14 metres square, at the end of which are located a suit of rooms. The central room had a semi-domed apse and columns, which with the elaborate entrance to the structure indicate that the palace could have belonged to the Fatimid Caliph or one of the regional governors. It has also been suggested that the palace may have once served as a rest house for the Fatimid Caliph al-Muizz while he was on his way to Cairo in 972 AC, but this cannot be confirmed and it was probably based on historical data. Currently the palace is mostly in ruins. But according to Pacho, who visited he palace in 1824 AC, the structure had more walls and most of the corner towers were present in his engraving, with damaged roofs and surrounded by rubble. All it remains today is what you see in the following photo which was taken in 2009. The surviving massive walls indicate that the building was put up at a time of some prosperity.
The Ajdabiyah Mosque
The Fatimid mosque at Ajdabiyah is known primarily through excavations carried out in the 1970s. The following photo shows a section and fragments from the mosque.
Date this reading posted on Simerg: January 31, 2011
Photo and Text Credits:
1. Photos of al-Mahdiya by Glyn Willett, United Kingdom.
2. Photos and text of Ajdabiyah Fortress Palace and mosque fragments produced from http://www.temehu.com/islamic-tourism-and-mosques.htm. Temehu aspires to provide a comprehensive and informative web site containing everything their visitors will ever need to know about Libya.
Please read related articles:
Great Moments in Ismaili History: The Establishment of the Fatimid Caliphate (published January 31, 2011)
Photos of Mausoleums of Ismaili Imams of the Dawr Satr Period (published February 2, 2011)
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