Koutoubia, Marrakech

Koutoubia Mosque

Five times a day, one voice rises above the Djemaa din as the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer from the Koutoubia Mosque minaret. Excavations confirm a Marrakshi legend: the original mosque, built by Almoravid architects, wasn’t properly aligned with Mecca, so the pious Almohads levelled it to build a realigned one. When the present mosque was finished by Sultan Yacoub El Mansour in the 12th century, 100 booksellers were clustered around its base – hence the name, from kutubiyyin (booksellers).

While the Koutoubia serves a spiritual purpose, its minaret is also a point of reference for international architecture. The 12th-century 70m-high tower is the prototype for Seville’s La Giralda and Rabat’s Le Tour Hassan, and it’s a monumental cheat sheet of Moorish ornament: scalloped keystone arches, jagged merlons (crenellations) and mathematically pleasing proportions. The minaret was sheathed in Marrakshi pink plaster, but experts opted to preserve its exposed stone in its 1990s restoration.

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