Algeria offers numerous intriguing UNESCO World Past Sites spanning its great Carthaginian, Roman, and Islamic heritage, in addition to its most well-known sites in the Sahara desert. Algeria’s magnificent, unspoiled Middleterranean beaches, as well as captivating gardens and national parks, are supplemented by a variety of architectural treasures that reflect Berber, Arab, Ottoman, and colonial Spanish and French influences. The Great Mosque of Algiers (Arabic: الجامع الكبير, romanized: djama’ el-kebir ; French: Grande mosquée d’Alger) is a medieval mosque in Algiers, Algeria. It is located near the city’s port, within the Casbah (ancient city). It was constructed on a ridge above the inner harbor, where early Berber and Phoenician settlers constructed a house of worship. Subsequently, the Romans built a temple, which was later transformed into a Christian basilica. This was eventually demolished and replaced by the mosque in the 11th century, which has since been greatly changed and extended. Although it has undergone various expansions and restorations since its founding in 1097, it is one of the few intact specimens of Almoravid architecture. It is the oldest mosque in Algiers and, after Sidi Okba Mosque, the oldest mosque in Algeria. With a prayer hall that can seat 35,000 worshipers and a complex that includes conference rooms, libraries, and other amenities, the mosque is on track to become the world’s third-largest mosque. Architects Drees & Sommer are collaborating on the project with Jürgen Engel Architekten and engineering firm Krebs und Kiefer, which is expected to take more than four years to complete. An inscription on the minbar (pulpit) of the mosque dates it to 1 Rajab, 490 AH, indicating that it was erected in or around 1097 CE, under the reign of Yusuf ibn Tashfin. The Zayyanid sultan Abu Tashfin I of Tlemcen erected the minaret in 1322 CE (17 Dhu al-Qadah, 722 AH), according to an inscription on the base.
The decision to construct Africa’s largest mosque might be linked to Algeria and Morocco’s long-standing enmity, which dates back to the 1963 Sand War and has been worsened over time by political disagreements and the two nations’ opposing positions in the continuing war in Western Sahara. During the French assault of Algiers in 1682 and 1683, the mosque was badly damaged, necessitating the restoration of its mihrab and qibla (southern) wall. The mosque complex will be erected on a 440,000m2 plot of land set aside by the Algerian government near the Bay of Algiers. The hot and humid environment of Algeria created problems for both designers and engineers, while the country’s coastline position made salty air and possibly strong winds a key worry. The mosque’s façade, which spans a total area of 95,000m2, is nearly completely made of natural stone. During French colonial control, the gallery on the exterior of the mosque was constructed in 1837. It was built as a result of the French completing a thorough renovation of the roadway. The prayer chamber within the five doors is supported by 72 columns and features a cedarwood minbar with an inscription saying that the mihrab, or niche marking the direction of Mecca, was built in 490 AH (AD 1097). This lends credence to the theory that the mosque was erected by Youssef ben Tachfine, the Almoravid king of Tlemcen, during the First Crusade, when the Mediterranean was changed. The center aisle is larger than the rest, indicating a T-plan form that would become commonplace in later mosque design in the Maghreb. In the northern part of the mosque, a rectangular courtyard measuring 11 by 21 meters is encircled by arcades. The mihrab is housed in a nook with a level surface. Two-door openings on either side of the mihrab opened to small rectangular chambers, one of which held the minbar, which was transported on rails to the prayer hall for the Imam to perform the daily prayers and offer discourses. An inscription on the 15-meter-high minaret encourages us to admire its beauty and the wonderful look of its crowns. The Bab al-Jenina, along with the minaret, is located in another portion of the mosque, in the north-east corner, and is intended for the exclusive use of the mosque’s imam. It features a number of rooms that are used on a regular basis. The Almoravid era minbar is carved in wood and mounted on wheels for unrestricted movement. It is designed in the basic shape of the paneled minbar of Qairawan’s Great Mosque.
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