Ever since Morocco opened up to European scholars, it has revealed itself as a promised land of Islamic art, which is closely linked to Spain. There are no monuments as ancient as in eastern Barbary. Almost nothing remains of the era of the Idrisites, of that century. IX which saw the great mosque of Kairouan being built in Tunisia; it is not yet certain that some of the minarets of Fez la Vecchia, modest towers with a heavy profile, date back to that period. Currently only the texts allow us to get an idea of the primitive mosques of Fez: the mosque of the sheriffs, the mosque of the Andalusians and the Qarawiyyīn. This retains at least some remains of the small Idrisite sanctuary and, from the time of the Magharāwa emirs (10th century), the minaret that rises on one side of the court; but the Almoravids were more than others than in the first half of the century. XII made it as extensive as it has come to us.
Comparing the Qarawiyyīn mosque with the contemporary large mosques of Tlemcen and of Algiers, an Almoravid type appears, evidently derived from the great mosque of Córdoba: a small courtyard, surrounded by arcades, precedes the prayer hall; this, much wider than the courtyard, is divided into parallel naves, between which the median is higher and longer; all the naves are covered with tiled roofs, and the same domes, in which the stalagmites appear, are outlined with four-pitched roofs. Horseshoe or polylobed arches are supported by pillars. Very dense floral decorations, carved in stucco, adorn the frame of the Mihrâb, or niche that indicates the direction of the prayer.
The Almoravids, great Saharan nomads, whose conquest had assumed the character of holy war, multiplied the new sanctuaries in the cities of their dominion. They also had to equip themselves with garrisons along the borders. They encircled the city of Morocco, founded by them; and some of their citadels still remain to the north, including concrete-walled Amergou with large round towers on a hill overlooking a deep ravine.
About the middle of the century. XII the Almohads, who succeeded the Almoravids, were able to leave traces of their dominion in Spain and in Barbary, raising buildings of noble architecture. Seville, their Spanish capital, retains only the Giralda and some fragments of the mosque, now a cathedral, from that period; instead Morocco, their African capital, takes pride in possessing the Koutoubia mosque almost intact; in Rabat, of which they wanted to make a large military center, there are the ruins of the enormous mosque dominated by a mighty unfinished minaret, and in Tīnmāl, in the High Atlas, there are vestiges of the sanctuary next to the tomb of the sect’s founder.
The Almohad mosque, the type of which is perfect in Koutoubia, is a development of the Almoravid mosque. The side naves, having the same importance as the central one, multiply and their meeting with the transverse nave, a kind of transept that runs along the back wall, is marked by domes whose decoration is more or less rich, according to their importance.. The stalagmites, complicated to form plumes and domes, reveal a remarkable virtuosity, the decoration tends to a less rich, wider and stronger style.
The sense of strength, characteristic of the Almohad style, is manifested not only in the stone sculptures of the tower of Ḥasan, the minaret of Rabat, but also in the majestic doors that gave access to the Qaṣbah, or citadel, of Rabat and Morocco, among the most perfect of Islamic art. Of equal artistic value are the pulpits (minbar) preserved in Morocco in the Qaṣbah mosque and in the Kutubiyyah (whose pulpit is by artists from Córdoba): strips of carved cedar wood encrusted with ivory and precious woods frame tiles floral decoration of admirable variety and technique.
Successors of the Almohads in the political dominion of Morocco, the Merīnids were also their heirs in the artistic field. With them the ancient city of Fez returned to capital and enjoyed, more than any other city, their construction activity, which was great. They founded Fez the New; they built numerous mosques in the old and new cities; they gave the ancient mosque some sumptuous Collegi (mederse). Above all, the medersa el-‛Aṭṭārīn (1325) and the medersa Bū‛Inānīyyah (1355) reveal the art of the Merīnids, contemporary with the art of the Alhambra in Granata, to which it is certainly not inferior.
This art, which is given the poorly justified name of “Moorish”, lacks, with a few exceptions, the vigor of Almohad art. The necropolis of the Merīnid princes of Chella demonstrates this in Rabat, in comparison with the great buildings of the Almohad period: the construction is more hasty and less lasting; the decoration, of sovereign elegance, is less vigorous. In the decorations of stone, stucco, wood, majolica, the repertoire is diminishing, but the intertwining has a softness and ingenuity that never smacks of effort, and despite the repetitions, the happy distribution of the motifs takes away any monotony.
The last Merīnids, in the deeply devastated region, could build little, or at least so it is to be assumed, since we do not know of any monument dated with certainty between the end of the century. XIV and half of the century. XVI. After this period of stagnation, the era of the Sa‛dian sheriffs seems almost a renaissance. Nothing is left of the palaces where those princes affirmed their love for pomp. Of the Badī ‛, built between 1578 and 1593 in Morocco by Ahmed al-Mansūr and of which historiographers have handed down enthusiastic descriptions to us, little recognizable ruins remain; but the great mosque and the mosque of Bāb Dukkāla of Morocco are Sa‛dian foundations. The beautiful city, once again the capital, is enriched by the Ibn Yūsuf medersa and the family mausoleum.
An offshoot of Moorish art, Sa‛dian art aims more than anything else at pomp; it complicates the plan of the mosque by extending the decoration and with the excess of details it often comes to monotony; among the traditional decorative elements it accepts oriental elements drawn from imported industrial products – fabrics, bindings or manuscripts – or introduced by craftsmen from the East.
The stylistic transformation by foreigners, particularly Europeans, the loss of the traditions of the golden period are revealed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in which construction activity was increasing. Sheriff Mūlāy Ismā‛īl (1672-1727), a great builder, not content with erecting hastily built fortresses of pure strategic interest in all the threatened points of his empire, enriched Meknès, his capital, with gigantic and sumptuous buildings. But, except for a few beautiful doors, such as Bāb Manṣūr al-‛Eulj (al-‛Ilǵ), those constructions reveal deep decay.
The decline, from which no province of Islam has escaped, does not appear irremediable in Morocco. There still exists the love of building, the taste for decoration and a technical expertise that give good hope for the future. Delightful houses are still being built there. According to the custom of Muslim Andalusia, the stately Moroccan house often has a garden with dense groves divided by avenues paved with glazed tiles: widely open porches and pavilions frame those oases of vegetables; the buildings are decorated with stuccos and ceramic inlays; gardens and internal courtyards are enlivened by fountains and jets of water reminiscent of the magnificent Generalife of Granata.
In short, Morocco due to its eccentric geographical position, protected from external influences, has preserved, despite contamination, architectural traditions that are purer than Algeria and Tunisia.
The persistence of the ancient taste in decoration and of the old techniques is equally affirmed in the industrial arts. In Moroccan cities, skilled craftsmen still know how to fashion beautiful railings, beat and chisel brass braziers and trays, weave sumptuous silks, adorn carpets and ceramics.
Morocco had and still has an extraordinarily archaic rustic art, which almost completely escaped the contagion of subsequent urban styles. This art, which appears all the more interesting to us because its primitive character often equals the refined taste of modern artists, is best preserved in the regions of difficult access among the mountain tribes of the Rif, the High and Middle Atlas, populations of the ancient Berber race; it reveals similarities with that of the other Berber groups of North Africa, residents of Kabylia and Jebel Nefusa. For Morocco 2010, please check programingplease.com.
In the High Atlas there are curious architectural types: residences of the great leaders of the country, fortresses perched on the heights that dominate the roads of the valley bottoms, where those powerful lords already led feudal life. The houses, the warehouses where supplies are accumulated, the corner towers and the keep are revealed on the outside for their various levels with the high walls of red earth extending at the base, the terraced crowns with cornices or crenellated parapets, the vigorous decoration of blind arches.
In the southern villages, artisans, especially Israelites, make beautiful weapons and jewels; they decorate the long rifles with incrustations of inlaid silver and chisel daggers and copper powder horns. The silver ornaments – clasps, diadems, pendants, necklaces, bracelets and earrings – have a broad style and a bold profile; the metal is engraved and nielloed. On the contrary, some regions have preserved the alveolate enamel technique, reinforcing its decorative value with sober and harmonious color notes.
The vigorous character of those feminine ornaments is also found in the fabrics made exclusively by women: carpets, blankets, curtains, saddle blankets or dresses. The decoration, often diagonal, is made up of simple and minute geometric elements (weaves, checkerboard motifs, zigzag lozenges); but the arrangement of the designs and colors composes well-balanced complexes, inspired by a very confident artistic sense.
Berber women also model in clay, without the potter’s wheel, domestic vessels that are painted in no more than two colors. Those of the northern regions are the most beautiful. The shape of these ceramics and their decoration with straight lines only bring them closer to Neolithic crockery, that is, to the first aesthetic manifestations of humanity.