Al Qal’a of Beni Hammad


Al Qal’a of Beni Hammad

Brief Description

In a mountainous site of extraordinary beauty, the ruins of the first capital of the Hammadid emirs, founded in 1007 and demolished in 1152, provide an authentic picture of a fortified Muslim city. The mosque, whose prayer room has 13 aisles with eight bays, is one of the largest in Algeria.

The ruins of Al Qal’a of Beni Hammad, the first capital of the Hammadid emirs, founded in 1007 and demolished in 1152. © UNESCO More pictures …

Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Qal’a of Beni Hammad is a remarkable archaeological site located 36 km to the north-east of the town of M’Sila. This ensemble of preserved ruins, at 1,000 m altitude, is located in a mountainous setting of striking beauty on the southern flank of Djebel Maâdid. The Qal’a of Beni Hammad was founded at the beginning of the 11th century by Hammad, son of Bologhine (founder of Algiers), and abandoned in 1090 under the threat of a Hilalian invasion. It is one of the most interesting and most precisely dated monumental complexes of the Islamic civilization. It was the first capital of the Hammadid emirs and enjoyed great splendour. The Qal’a comprises, within 7 km of partially dismantled fortified walls, a large number of monumental vestiges, among which are the great Mosque and its minaret, and a series of palaces. The mosque, with its prayer hall comprising 13 naves of 8 bays is the biggest after that of Mansourah and its minaret is the oldest in Algeria after that of Sidi Boumerouane. The ruins of the Qal’a bear witness to the great refinement of the Hammad civilization, an original architecture and the palatial culture of North Africa.

Criterion (iii): The Qal’a of Beni Hammad bears exceptional testimony to the Hammadid civilization now disappeared. Founded in 1007 as a military stronghold, it was elevated to the level of metropolis.  It has influenced the development of Arab architecture as well as other civilizing influences, including the Maghreb, Andalusia and Sicily. The archaeological and monumental vestiges of the Qal’a of Beni Hammad, among which are included the Great mosque and its minaret as well as a series of palaces, constitute the principal resources that testify to the wealth and influence of this Hammadid civilization.

Integrity (2009)

At the time of inscription, the attributes that characterise the property were the remains of the 7 km of fortified walls and all the monumental vestiges contained therein. The State Party intends to propose the revision of the boundaries of the property and to establish a buffer zone to protect the exceptional environment of the site. The integrity of the property is assured but the vestiges remain vulnerable to natural degradation and weathering.

Authenticity (2009)

All the attributes of the property such as the archaeological vestiges, the surrounding walls, the mosques, palaces and minaret form a coherent ensemble and remain intact.

Protection and management requirements (2009)

The protection of the site relates to National Law 98-04 concerning the protection of cultural heritage. The management of the site is entrusted to the Office of Cultural Properties Management and Exploitation (OGEBC), with the site manager being responsible for everyday management. The OGEBC is responsible, besides public service missions, protection, maintenance and presentation, of the implementation of the protection and presentation plan of the site (PPMVSA). This is done in coordination with the Directorate for Culture of the Wilaya of Setif, and specifically with a service responsible for conservation and presentation of cultural heritage. The need for funding and specialised professional personnel is still very important for the implementation of the plan. The management must focus on the restoration and conservation programme of the vestiges. The site is hardly visited – a few thousand visitors annually – and tourism does not constitute a threat for its conservation.

Long Description

The ensemble of preserved ruins known as the Al Qal’ah of Beni Hammad is situated on the southern flank of the Jebel Maâdid in a mountainous setting of striking beauty. It bears exceptional witness to a cultural tradition: it is one of the most interesting and most precisely dated monumental complexes of the Islamic civilization and provides an authentic picture of a fortified Muslim city.

In a mountainous site at 1,000 m above sea level, on the southern flank of the Jebel Maâdid, are to be found the ruins of the first capital of the Hammadid emirs, founded in 1007 by Hammad, son of Bologhine, the founder of Algiers. The city was abandoned in 1090 when it was menaced by a Hilalian invasion, and finally destroyed in 1152 by the Almohads. It enjoyed great splendour during the 11th century. The Al Qal’a encompasses a large number of monumental remains, among which are the Great Mosque and its minaret, as well as a series of palaces including the Kanar, Greeting and Lake Palaces.

The mosque, with its prayer room of 13 aisles with eight bays, is one of the largest in Algeria after that of Mansura. The minaret, 25 m high, is the prototype of the three-tiered minaret composition which may be seen most notably at the Giralda of Seville. The palatial ruins bear witness to the great refinement of the Hammadid civilization.

The Castle of the Beacon Light, set on a sheer rocky peak from which its keep dominated the surrounding area, was inspired by the layout of eastern palaces. The palace of the Hammadid emirs is a complex made up of three residences separated by gardens, pavilions and cisterns.

Excavations have brought to light the locations of other palaces, as well as an abundance of other material which is exhibited in the museums of Sétif, Constantine and Algiers.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

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