Its minaret is the city’s pre-eminent monument, towering above all else and has always been the first visible sign of Marrakech for travellers approaching from afar. This is wholly fitting, because the mosque is not only the city’s main place of worship, it is also one of the city’s oldest buildings, dating back to the 12th century, not long after Marrakech was founded. The designer of the Koutoubia minaret went on to create Tour Hassan in the Moroccan capital, Rabat and the tower of the Giralda in Seville. Unfortunately, as with nearly all mosques and shrines in Morocco, non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the Koutoubia.
Mosque of the Booksellers
The Koutoubia was built in 1158. Its name means the Mosque of the Booksellers, which is a reference to a small market that once existed in the neighbourhood, where worshippers could buy copies of religious tracts.
The purpose of a minaret is to provide a high platform from which the muezzin can make the fivetimesdaily call to prayer. Rather than a staircase, the Koutoubia’s towering minaret (left) has a spiralling ramp wide enough for a horse to be ridden to the top.
The minaret decoration
Originally the whole minaret was encased in tiles and carved stucco, but now only two shallow bands of blue ceramics remain.
The mosque plan
The mosque is rectangular in plan. The relatively plain main east entrance leads to a vast prayer hall with its eight bays and horseshoe arches. North of the prayer hall is a courtyard with fountains and trees.
Exact times of daily prayer change with the seasons, but are observed predawn, noon, late afternoon, sunset and late evening, as indicated by the muezzin. The most important prayers of the week are those at noon on Friday.
Ruins of the Almohad Mosque
Next to the Koutoubia are the remains of an earlier mosque, circa 1147. The bases of the prayer hall’s columns, secured behind railings, are clearly visible (left). This mosque collapsed during an earthquake in 1775.
Dar El Hajar
Two glassroofed wells on the piazza allow visitors to view the buried remains of the Dar El Hajar, a fortress built by the Almoravids. It was destroyed when the Almohads captured the city .
Koubba Lalla Zohra
This white tomb (below) houses the body of Lalla Zohra – a slave’s daughter who transformed into a dove each night.
South of the mosque is a garden with a mix of palms and deciduous trees, topiary hedges and colourful roses (centre).
Tomb of Yousef Ben Tachfine
Just north of the mosque, glimpsed through a locked gate, is a walled area containing the crenulated mausoleum of Yousef Ben Tachfine, tribal leader of the Almoravids, and the man credited with the founding of Marrakech.