A historic mosque in Tunisia’s coastal city of Sousse, the Great Mosque of Sousse is a must-see attraction. Built in 851 by the amir Abu al-Abbas Muhammad al-Aghlabi of the Aghlabid Dynasty, an Abbasid Caliphate vassal, the construction dates back to that time.
Built in AD 851, this Aghlabid structure is a model of austerity. As a matter of fact, the mosque’s turrets and crenellated wall, as well as its unusual location, can be attributed to the architect’s adaptation of an earlier Kasbah (fort). It’s also unusual because it doesn’t have a minaret; instead, the nearby Ribat’s prayer call tower is used.
Between the 10th and 17th centuries, the mosque experienced numerous renovations and enhancements. A wall with balconies and barges overlooking the beach, which could be used to attack would-be raiders from behind, surrounds the mosque, giving it a fortified appearance. It is a part of the Medina of Sousse, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History & Architecture
The Great Mosque is located 50 meters from the Ribat at the eastern end of the Medina, close to the rampart. In a rectangular building with porticos on columns, the prayer hall opens onto a courtyard.
Many doors on the side facades lead into the building where it is located. No minaret can be found here; this may be due to the nearby rib’t’s lookout tower being too close. The courtyard’s north and south east corners are both dominated by towers.
There is a small domed structure on top of the north-eastern tower, which can be reached from the courtyard via a staircase. First-phase construction is evident in the three porticos with horseshoe arches and short pillars.
According to an inscription in Naskhi script and the architectural style, the fourth portico, which rests on columns, was probably added during the Zirid period and renovated under the Muradites (AD 1675).
A Kufic inscription in bevelled letters on a scooped-out string-course adorns the upper zone of the three Aghlabid porticos and the prayer hall. The B Fatata Mosque (838–841, Sousse) and the Zitouna Mosque in Tunisia both feature this style of decoration.
Located in the center of the T-shaped mosque, the Mihrab bay and central nave with its double columns are the largest. Two cupolas, one in front of the Mihrab, adorn the central nave. To build the Great Mosque of Kairouan (670 and 836) in Sousse, architects used a T-shaped layout, as had the Abbasid mosque of Ab Dulf in Samarra, Iraq (847–861). They also used the principle of two cupolas in the prayer hall, which would later appear in Fatimid Egypt.
There were originally thirteen barrel-vaulted naves and three bays resting on round horseshoe arches running in both directions, placed on cruciform pillars, dating back to Abbas Muhammad’s time. Three new bays and a new Mihrab, preceded by a dome on squinches, were added to the prayer hall under Ibrahim II (875–902).
As can be seen from the niches resting on columns that adorn the half dome and the flowery Kufic letters engraved on the recycled ancient columns flanking the niche, this semicircular Mihrab is decorated in the Zirid style. As with the Great Mosque of Monastir and the great mosque of Mahdiya, as well as the oratory of the Sayyida Ribat in Monastir, the Mihrab is strikingly similar.
A square base, like in Kairouan, supports the dome of the original Mihrab (875). Intersecting corners, like those found in the nearby Ribat and Kairouan, form a transition between the dome and the base. Floral motifs (rosettes, palm leaves, and foliage) are framed in squares laid point to point on the bay of the dome’s side pediments, evoking the Mihrab’s lustre tiles and contemporaneous woodwork and stuccowork of the Great Mosque of Kairouan’s Mihrab.
The absence of a drum in the dome deviates from the principle of Kairouan style domes. The architecture of the Tunisian Sahel would replicate the type of dome found in the entrance porch of the Ribat of Sousse (821). The squinches’ surface area resembles an eight-sided drum from the outside.
The building’s stark, hulking appearance evokes images of Ribat’s architecture. Like Ramla and Sofra cisterns, it’s clearly inspired by hydraulic and underground architecture (Sousse, pre-Islamic period). The architecture of the Tunisian Sahel would take on this look.
The Sousse Mosque was built in 851 by the Amir Abu al-Abbas Muhammad al-Aghlabi of the Aghlabid Dynasty, an Abbasid Caliphate vassal.
It is situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Medina of Sousse, the Great Mosque of Sousse is one of the most famous and largest Islamic landmarks in North Africa.
Visiting the Great Mosque of Sousse
This Great Mosque of Sousse is one of the most beautiful landmarks in that region. A real fantastic place to visit and so much history surrounding this Mosque.
Know Before You Go
The Mosque of Sousse is located in the heart of the Medina of Sousse. Please dress appropriately when visiting as it is still an active place of worship. Non-Muslims aren’t allowed beyond the courtyard but from there can view the barrel-vaulted prayer hall.
- Address: Sousse, Tunisia
- Transport: Taxis can take you directly to the mosque
- Schedule: Always open
- Entrance Fee/Ticket Price: N/A.
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