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Andalusi Spolia in Medieval Morocco: “Architectural Politics, Political Architecture”

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AbstractTraditionally, art historians have viewed the art of medieval Morocco through the lens of Islamic Iberia, which is regarded as the culturally superior center and model for the region. However, more recent studies are beginning to show that, rather than Moroccan patrons and artisans passively absorbing an Andalusi model, the rulers of the Almoravid and Almohad regimes were adopting aspects of this model in very deliberate ways. These studies suggest that Andalusi works of art were part of a conscious appropriation of styles as well as material in a very physical sense, which were imbued by the Moroccan dynasties with a significance relating to the legitimacy of their rule. This paper focuses on the way in which Andalusi architectural and other, mainly marble, material was deployed in Moroccan architecture in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Rather than reusing locally available material, this monumental (and extremely heavy) material was gathered in al-Andalus, at the ruined monuments of the Andalusi Umayyad caliphs, and transported over great distances to the imperial capitals at Fez and Marrakesh. Here this Umayyad spolia was deployed in key locations in the mosques and palaces constructed as the architectural manifestations of the Almoravids’ and Almohads’ new political power. Most frequently, this spolia consisted of marble capitals in the distinctive, dynastic style developed by the Andalusi caliphs for their palace at Madīnat al-Zaḥrāʾ. But together with other Andalusi imports, such as the magnificent minbars made in Córdoba for the Qarawiyyīn mosque and Almoravid mosque at Marrakesh, these physical symbols of al-Andalus in Morocco conveyed a clear message that the Almoravids and, later, the Almohads had taken up the mantle of rule in the Islamic West.

Affiliations: 1: Asian Department, Victoria and Albert MuseumLondon SW7


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