Qalʿa Bani Hammād. Image courtesy Artstor.

Qalʿa Bani Hammād

 
Catalogue
North African Gardens
Country
Algeria
Dates
1007 1185
Author
Abbey Stockstill

Description

Key dates: 1007–90 (Hammadid foundation); 1185 (destruction by Almohads)

 

The Qalʿa Bani Hammād is a fortified palatial city located in northern Algeria, nestled amongst the Hodna Mountains. Built in 1007 as a dynastic capital by Hammad ibn Buluggin, founder of the Hammadid dynasty, the site contains a mosque with a monumental minaret, a market space, and bath complexes as well as several palaces, the most notable of which are known as the Dār al-Bahr (“Lake Palace”) and the Qaṣr al-Salām (“Palace of Peace”). The city was expanded and augmented by Hammad ibn Buluggin’s grandson and great-grandson, al-Nāṣir ibn ʿAlnās and Al-Manṣūr ibn al-Nāṣir, before being abandoned in 1090 under the threat of raids by the Banu Hilāl. Though other groups would occupy this city, by 1185 the city falls out of historical records after a lengthy siege by the Almohads.

The enclosed city is situated on a south-facing slope of Mount Taqarbūst, at its highest point reaching 1418 m above sea level, and 550 m above sea level at its lowest. Its wall system measures 7 km in length, with access to the city being primarily restricted to the southern entrance known as Bāb al-Djarāwa. This combination of architecture and topography made Qalʿa Bani Hammād both well-protected and easily defended, as lookouts could spot those approaching the city well in advance of their arrival. In conjunction with its proximity to major east-west trade routes across North Africa, the city’s strong defenses made it a highly strategic site. Fertile plains—irrigated by canals diverting water from the Wadī Fradj, which ran north to south along the eastern edge of the site—lined its southern perimeter, primarily producing grain and fruit for the city’s inhabitants.

Excavations of the Lake Palace have revealed that it followed the city’s north-south orientation, with three conjoined palatial buildings built in succession along the sloping terrain. Below these was an area with terraced gardens and a complex of cisterns, with a large artificial lake that made up the southern third of the palace. This pool, measuring 67 m by 47 m, was oriented east to west, with a sloping ramp on its eastern end (presumably for launching the boats that made up the nautical performances described by medieval authors). The colonnaded portico that surrounded the pool opened on the west to another courtyard, which had a square chamber in the center of its northern side that had possibly been domed and opened onto the lake by means of an iwan (a vaulted niche enclosed on three sides to create a monumental opening on the fourth). It is likely that this chamber had served as a viewing platform for the ruler and the elite to watch performances on the lake, the experience enhanced by the sloping view toward the south which provided a vantage point over the city to the plains below. Such manipulation of the local topography is greatly indebted to the regional examples of Samarra and Madīnat al-Zahrāʾ.

Another significant development at the Qalʿa Bani Hammād was the orientation and positioning of the city’s congregational mosque and minaret. Located just south of the Lake Palace, this thirteen-nave mosque is oriented southward, positioning its courtyard and minaret axially opposite the qibla wall. The minaret, a large square tower of superimposed rooms, looms over the remains of the mosque itself, its height somewhat exaggerated by its topographical surroundings.

 

Sources

  • Historical, 14th c. (Ibn Khaldun, “Kitāb al-ʿIbār”)
  • Archaeological Analysis, (Paul Blanchet, “Description des monuments de la Kalaa des Beni-Hammad,” in “Nouvelles archives des missions scientifiques”; L. de Beylié and Georges Marçais, “La Kalaa des Beni-Hammad”; Lucien Golvin, “Recherches archéologiques à la Qal’a des Banu Hammad”)