The capital of the Hammadites, founded at the beginning of the 11th century, has been a field of ruins since it was destroyed by the Almohads in 1152. It is an example of a typical fortified Muslim city in North Africa and is believed to be the birthplace of the so-called Moorish style.
Mountain Fortress Beni Hammad: Facts
|Official title:||Beni Hammad mountain fortress|
|Cultural monument:||Mountain fortress and Muslim ruined city El Qal’a with the foundation walls of the 64×54 m large mosque, the ruins of the Emir’s Palace on an area of 250×160 m, with the “Sea Palace” (Dar el-Behar) and the remains of the Ksar el-Manar, des »Lighthouse Castle«|
|Location:||Qal’a, near the Djebel Maadid, at the foot of the Hodna Mountains, northwest of Biskra|
|Meaning:||the ruins of the first capital of the Hammadite dynasty as authentic evidence of a fortified Muslim city in North Africa|
Mountain Fortress Beni Hammad: History
|800-909||Reign of Emir El Aghlab, founder of the Aghlabid dynasty|
|973||Cairo as the residence of the Shiite Fatimid caliph|
|1007||Founded by the vassal of the Fatimid caliphs, Hammad ben Bologhine|
|1067||An-Nasser, head of the Hammadites, flees to Béjaia|
|1148||Conquest of Mahdia by a Norman army and expulsion of the Zirids|
|1152||Capture and destruction by the troops of Abu Abdallah, son of Abd al-Mumen, founder of the Almohad dynasty; 8,000 residents slaughtered|
The fortress of the rebellious Muslims
When the governor of the Caliph of Baghdad in the North African Empire Ifriqiya asked his uncle to head out at the head of an army to defeat renegade rebels, the latter immediately accepted. Hammad reached with his men from Kairouan in what is now Tunisia to Constantine in what is now Algeria according to indexdotcom. Once there, however, he forgot the arrangements he had made with his nephew. Instead of returning the conquered territories to Badis, the successful general built his own empire. In order to protect himself from the anger of the so deceived Badi and the anger of the caliph in Baghdad, Hammad had a fortress town built in eastern Algeria in 398 after the Higra, the emigration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina.
El Qal’a Beni Hammad – “the castle of the sons of Hammad” – is the name of the place located at a height of a thousand meters in a kind of natural amphitheater after the clan of its founder. The M’Sila plateau can be overlooked from a gently sloping ridge. A possible approaching enemy saw El Qal’a from afar, but could hardly reach the city. To the east, a bend in the deeply dug canyon of the Fredj River blocks the way. In the west rise the rocky cliffs of Mount Garein. If you want to get to El Qal’a, there is only one way left: a narrow, rocky path along the river. And it can be defended effortlessly from the city without much effort.
But the founding fathers still felt that the natural protection was insufficient. So they put a seven-kilometer wall around their city. With the Ksar el-Manar, the castle, the city also had a fortress within the city walls. The most important palace, El Donjon, was also a powerful fortress within the fortress. Surrounded by walls, various houses for residents and staff of the facility had been built around the central building. Even a small, richly decorated prayer room could not be missing here.
The square minaret of the Great Mosque overlooks the entire city. Only one side of the tower – the one facing the courtyard of the mosque – is decorated with niches and ornaments. The rest of the structure, which has been preserved in full splendor to this day, is a simple natural stone wall. The crumbling prayer house with its rectangular floor plan of 64 meters by 54 meters was the second largest mosque in Algeria. In the inner courtyard, a three-meter-deep cistern gave the believers fresh water.
When the history teacher from Constantine undertook the first excavations in the city in 1897, he discovered one of the most beautiful stone testimonies in the El Donjon palace: a water basin made from a block with four lions carved out of stone. However, the fortress city was only explored professionally more than six decades later. But so far only a courtyard paved with stone slabs has been exposed of the second large palace, El Qasris-Salam. The third palace, El Dar el-Behar, is still waiting for the archaeologists.
“Hammad populated El Qal’a with residents from the cities of Mecila and Hamza, who he then razed to the ground,” said the 14th century Tunisian historian Abd ar-Rahman Ibn Chaldun in his work on the dynasties of North Africa. Hammad had also thought of the comfort of the resettled subjects. Because El Qal’a had a perfect water supply. The centerpiece was a large, walled reservoir. It was connected to basins outside the city and to the distribution system within the walls via tunnels. “El Qal’a soon flourished economically. The population grew rapidly. Craftsmen and students from the most remote countries and the last corners of the empire poured into the city en masse, ”wrote Ibn Khaldun.
The lords of El Qal’a could call three quarters of today’s Algeria their own. And yet: in 547 after the Higra, the fortress found another conqueror, the Almohads, who destroyed the city, which was considered impregnable.