Jami' al- Kabir, the Great Mosque of Mahdia has gone through multiple incarnations. Originally built in 916 by Obayd Allah El-Medhi, who led a military campaign for Egypt, its qibla wall collapsed into the sea in the eleventh century and was reconstructed at a later date. The mosque was almost entirely destroyed in 1554, along with the ramparts on which it was built. Early in the eighteenth century Youssef Sahib ordered the mosque to be rebuilt with a new prayer hall, a free-standing minaret in the Moorish-Andalusian style (which never existed in the original mosque), and two courtyards flanking the main structure. A narrow courtyard was also added in front of the entrance elevation facing the city. In 1961-65, a major restoration project led by A. Lezine removed the eighteenth century additions and rebuilt the mosque according to excavations of the original Fatimid mosque. Only the parts of the elevation facing the city with the entrance portal belong to the original mosque.
The mosque has a rectangular plan aligned on a northeast-southwest axis enclosed with heavily fortified walls. The entrance portal located in the center of the northeastern elevation leads into an entrance porch occupying the entire width of the structure along the northeastern wall. The porch occupies one side of the courtyard whose other sides are enclosed with colonnaded walkways. Horseshoe arches on the north and south sides of the courtyard rest on slender columns with miniature capitals. The opposite courtyard elevation (that facing northeast) is enclosed with seven horseshoe arches, of which the central arch is wider and taller, resting upon two flat piers, each flanked by two slender columns. Seven corresponding arches, each infilled with large wood doors, lead into the prayer hall, but only the central door is used for access into the prayer hall.
The prayer hall measures four bays deep and nine bays wide, with the central aisle wider than the others. The rows of arches are built perpendicular to the qibla wall with arches resting on double columns. The central aisle is flanked by taller and thicker arches resting on clusters of four columns. The intersection of the first row parallel to the qibla wall and the central aisle is crowned by a mihrab dome that rests on two clusters of eight columns, with five at equal height to the others and the inner three rising taller, framing the mihrab. On the mihrab wall two column clusters flank the mihrab and support the other two corners of the pendentives rising to the dome.
The mihrab itself has the form of a slightly pointed horseshoe arch resting on two green marble columns with stone capitals. Its semicircular interior is articulated with nine flutes, each terminating in a seashell form. A horizontal band wraps the mihrab and rests on top of the fluted shaft of the mihrab, with floral stonework corresponding to each flute below. A second horizontal band of white marble with carved Quranic verses wraps the interior of the mihrab. The flutes of the semicircular mihrab dome terminate in a single point at its center, illustrated with a single carved flower.
The dome over the mihrab crossing is articulated with a band of dark marble with Quranic verses linking the square base to the eight-sided drum supporting the dome. Twenty-four small windows in filled with green glass pierce the base of the dome above the drum.
Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Sheila Blair. The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250, 148-150. The Pelican History of Art. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.
Michell, George. The Architecture of the Islamic World, 219. London: Thames and Hudson,1978.
Santelli, Serge. Medinas, L'Architecture Traditionnelle en Tunisie, 74-80. Tunis: Dar Ashraf Editions, 1992.
Mosquées de Tunisie, 94-97. Tunis: Maison tunisienne de l'edition, 1973.
Great Mosque (Translated)
Djamaa el-Kebir (Alternate transliteration)
Jamaa al-Kebir (Alternate transliteration)
La Grande Mosquée (Variant)
916/303 AH; partial collapse between 1016/406 AH and 1057448 AH; reconstruction ca. 1090/482 AH; destruction of the main prayer hall 1554/961 AH; reconstruction and expansion ca. 1798/1212 AH; restoration 1961-1965/1380-1384 AH