Visit the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech
Visit the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech: Are you heading to Marrakech in Morocco, the jewel of North Africa? If you’re looking for a cultural and spiritual break during your Morocco tours, we’d like to introduce you to the splendid Koutoubia Mosque!
This religious edifice is famous throughout the Muslim world and recognized worldwide as one of the most famous mosques celebrating Islam. In fact, unlike many others, it is not distinguished by its architecture or ornamentation, but by a certain stylistic austerity, a certain aesthetic simplicity, with the exception of its more richly decorated 12th-century minaret.
It attracts thousands of visitors every year, faithful and otherwise, and we recommend that you pay a visit if you’re just passing through Marrakech: to convince you and help you do so, we’ve prepared a concise and practical travel guide listing all the practical information you need: a brief history of the place, the major attractions and must-see features on site, as well as the best access routes, times and prices for a moment of peace and quiet and a first-rate cultural stopover.
History of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech:
Captured by the Almohad dynasty in the 12th century, the city of Marrakech was then under the domination of the Almoravids, sworn enemies of the Almohads, who considered them heretics! Abd-al-Mu’min, who won the city, was commissioned to design the first Koutoubia mosque, on the site of the former palace of Ali ibn Yusuf in the south-western part of the medina. Built between 1147 and 1157, in just ten years, this first mosque was rebuilt at the end of the 12th century because the mihrab (prayer niche) was not exactly oriented towards Mecca!
When the Andalusians finally defeated the Almohad dynasty, this alignment problem became minor in their eyes, but a new mosque was eventually built right next to the first: both were built identically – in layout, architecture, dimensions, materials and inscriptions – only their geographical orientation was slightly different… but the correction was wrong! In fact, the first mosque had its mihrab directed five degrees out of alignment with Mecca, while the second increased this deviation by a further five degrees!
Both mosques were built during the reign of Abd al-Mu’min, between 1130 and 1163. Eventually deteriorated and abandoned, the first mosque no longer exists today – only its ruins, which you can see when you visit the site – and when you visit the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, you’re actually admiring the second version.
What to see and do at the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech?
It’s important to understand that the Almohad dynasty favored a rather austere style of architecture: stripped back, its arches are bare and devoid of rich decoration. So it’s not the building itself that proves extraordinary, but the elements that surround it.
The minaret, for example, built later, was more ostentatious in its design, with incredible intertwined arches called “sebka”, revealing unique craftsmanship; dominated by three golden copper balls symbolizing the three great mosques of Islam: the Kaaba (in Mecca), that of Al Quds and that of Medina. Legend has it that these three balls were made from molten gold… taken from the jewels of the Caliph’s wife, who had the audacity to eat during the day during Ramadan!
It was this minaret that served as the model for Seville’s Giralda! The exterior is decorated differently on each of its four sides, with painted floral ornaments, interlacing networks in relief, bands of white mosaics on a turquoise background, and was built in shale sandstone from the Guéliz quarries. Its proportions are close to perfection: 12.8 meters on a side, 69 meters high, and up to 77 meters including the tip of the spire. The tower houses six superimposed rooms, encircled by a ramp leading to a covered walkway protected by a jagged balustrade – a true jewel of the goldsmith’s trade!
The lantern, measuring almost sixteen meters, curiously resembles a second minaret… placed on top of the first:
The Mosque of the Booksellers (yes, that’s the other name for the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech) also housed a splendid minbar, a stepladder serving as a pulpit from which the Friday prayer sermon is delivered by a religious leader. This jewel of Moroccan art, commissioned by Sultan Ali Ben Youssef, was built in Cordoba from 1137: it took over eight years to complete! Carefully transported to Ali’s mosque in Marrakech, it was then moved to the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech, where it was quickly described as a work of perfection. Indeed, adorned with silver and rare wood marquetry, this monument composed of a thousand pieces of cedar is a truly exceptional piece… and ingeniously designed and used: concealed in a niche close to the mihrab, it was extracted every Friday thanks to an ingenious invisible system of pulleys and ropes. Removed from the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech in 1962 for restoration, it can now be seen in a small building at the north-east corner of the nearby El Badi` Palace.
If you’re tired of visiting the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, you can relax in the splendid gardens of Parc Lalla Hasna, which surround the mosque and feature lush green paths and refreshing, richly decorated fountains. Or discover the ruins of the old mosque (its first version), right next door!
How do I get to the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech?
A visit to the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech can be reached in just five minutes on foot from the famous Place Jemaa el-Fna, or in ten minutes from the Marrakech souk.
Public transport is available, but it’s not always easy to use, given the often chaotic traffic! If you’re visiting Marrakech’s Koutoubia mosque from a distance, we recommend taking a cab, which is very affordable and will certainly train you in the demanding art of haggling. Hire cars can also be considered, but it’s often difficult to adapt to heavy traffic and find a space nearby. Cabs are the way to go!
Koutoubia Mosque opening times and prices:
It’s quite simple: the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech is open every day, from 9am to 6pm</b, and admission is free, for everyone.
But we recommend that you select the precise time of your visit carefully in advance: in addition to Fridays, when the place of worship is very difficult to access and visit, the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech is, at regular prayer times, also overrun by worshippers… before being, during the peak summer tourist season, invaded by tourists and visitors of all kinds!
Our advice is to take advantage of the calm of the place during the low season, and find out about the prayer times, which can change depending on the time of year. That way, you can make the most of your visit to Marrakech’s superb Koutoubia mosque!
GOOD TO KNOW:
- Animals are not allowed inside the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.
- Non-Muslims are not allowed inside the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. That’s just the way it is! But you can still see it from the outside, and that’s probably what makes it so interesting from a tourist point of view.
- This normally goes without saying, but let’s not forget: it’s advisable to behave and dress appropriately in this place of worship.