In the late 12th century, Sultan Yaqub al-Mansur, the third Caliph of Almohad Dynasty that ruled over West Africa and Iberia, ordered the construction of a massive mosque and a minaret called Hassan Tower in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. Yaqub al-Mansur had already built the iconic Koutoubia and El Mansouria mosques in Marrakech and the kasbah of the Udayas. During his reign the empire flourished in trade, architecture, philosophy and the sciences. His victorious military campaigns against the Christians saw the establishment of the Arabs for the first time in Morocco.
Yaqub al-Mansur’s latest project was his most ambitious one. Hassan Tower was to be the tallest minaret in the world, and the adjoining mosque would have been the largest. This grand project was to be the centerpiece of his new capital and a celebration of the Sultan’s victory over the Spanish Christians at Alarcos. Unfortunately, Yaqub al-Mansur died in 1199, and construction came to an abrupt halt just four years after it began.
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Today, the incomplete minaret, the vast marble floor, the surviving walls and some 200 columns indicate the huge dimensions the mosque would have taken if finished. The mosque could have received up to 20,000 worshippers at a time, which was quite out of proportions to the size of its city. Only in modern times did Rabat grew in size and population. In those times, it was still a village.
Hassan Tower stands 44 meters tall, about half its intended height of around 80 meters. The exterior of the rectangular minaret is ornamented with distinct patterns, each side sporting a different design. On the inside, the tower is ascended by ramps instead of stairs which allowed animals to carry heavy stones and building materials needed for the construction of the higher part of the tower. The ramps would have also allowed the muezzin to ride a horse to the top of the tower to issue the call to prayer.
Hassan Tower and the surrounding site was granted World Heritage Status in 2012.
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Photo credit: Marina Sanz Biendicho/Flickr
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