Tlemcen, in the northwest of Algeria, is sometimes called the “African Granada,” because of the richness of Medieval Islamic architecture in the city. The region has been inhabited since the Neolithic era. In the 1st century the Numidian (Amazigh) leader Takfarinas was killed in battle with the Romans who established the military outpost of Pomaria (orchards). In the 8th c. after the conquest of the Muslims, the city expanded beyond the walls of Pomaria and became known as Agadir (the wall).
From this period onward, the city was governed by a succession of Muslim dynasties. The Idrisids of Fés conquered Agadir in 788. They were replaced in command by the Umayyads of al-Andalus. In 1079, Tlemcen was conquered by the Almoravids under the leadership of Yusuf ibn Tashfin. A new town, Tagrart (the camp), was established adjacent to the existing town. The city now known as Tlemcen (the springs) was created from the union of Agadir and Tagrart. It was during this period that the Great Mosque of Tlemcen was built.
Yet even as the Great Mosque was being adorned, a new power was growing stronger to the west in modern day Morocco. The Almohad dynasty, led by the Algerian-born Abd al-Mumin bin Ali, conquered Tlemcen in 1144 and ruled for over a century. Nonetheless, their architectural contribution to the city was modest.
In the 13th century, the decline of the Almohads provided to the Abd al-Wadids (Ziyanids), led by Yaghmurasan ibn Zayyan, an opportunity to establish an independent dynasty. They ruled over central Maghreb for three consecutive centuries, during which time Tlemcen enjoyed an unprecedented era of economic and intellectual prosperity. The once secondary city became a powerful capital, and a crossroads between the Orient and Mediterranean Europe. Tlemcen frequently hosted Spanish and Italian merchants (and occasionally merchants from meridional France) who were interested in gold from the Sudan. They were installed in the walled district of al-Qaysariya. The neighborhood contained two churches serving the Christian merchants. The well-established Jewish community occupied a large area in the heart of the medina, between the Great Mosque and the Mechouar (government headquarters).
Most medieval monuments of Tlemcen date back to that time. Even the Almoravid great mosque was expanded and a large minaret constructed. The new capital was adorned with many new buildings, the most important being: the Madrasa al-Tashfinya, the mosque of Sidi Abi Hasan, and the new royal palace (Dar al-Mulk). The Abd al-Wadids (Ziyanids) reign was also a period of intense intellectual and religious activity. The famous historian Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun stayed and taught at the madrasas of the city.
The brief domination of the neighboring Marinids (1337-1358) endowed the districts extra muros with several architectural gems such as the complex of Sidi Abu Madyan, the mosque at Mansura. After this period, Tlemcen never reached the same level of glory, partly because of the constant threats coming from Muslim and Christian neighboring kingdoms. This situation lasted until the city was occupied by the Ottomans, and annexed to the Regency of Algiers, in 1555. The prosperity of Tlemcen during the late Middle Ages was followed by centuries of slow decay, under the Ottoman rule.
After the weakening of the Ottoman Empire, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were marked the French occupation and its major urban renovations that changed the morphology of the city. Nowadays, the historical center of Tlemcen is enclosed within an urban agglomeration that has grown to more than thirty times its size, with a medieval medina attempting to find its place in a city of the 21st century.
Abadie, Louis. Tlemcen au passé retrouvé. Nice: Jacques Gandini, 1994.
Bargès, Jean-Joseph-Léandre. Tlemcen, ancienne capitale du royaume de ce nom, sa topographie, son histoire, description de ses principaux monuments, anecdotes, légendes et récits divers : souvenirs d’un voyage, Paris: Duprat, 1859.
Lawless, Richard I. “Tlemcen, Capital City of the Abd al-Wadids: A Study of the Functions of a Medieval Islamic.” Islamic Quarterly 18 (1974).
Lawless, Richard I. and Gerald H. Blake. Tlemcen: Continuity and Change in an Algerian Islamic Town. London: Bowker, 1976.
The village of ‘Ubbâd (El-Eubbad), 2 km sw of Tlemcen and now part of the city proper, is the burial place of Sidi Shu’ayb Abu Madyan (Sidi Bou Medien), a figure of major importance in the early history of Sufism in the Maghreb. He died there in 1198 on his way to Marrakech respond to a summons from the Almohad Sultan Abu Yusuf Ya’qub al-Mansur. The village was already a pilgrimage center for the tomb of Sidi al-Abbad. The Qubba of Sidi Bou Madyan was constructed by Mohamed Al-Nasir near al-Abbad's tomb at the end of the 12th century. 
In the middle of the 14th century it was expanded by Sultan Abu Al-Hasan of the Marinids to include mausoleum and baths along a plan similar to that of the mosque of Sidi al-Halwi Mosque, also in Tlemcen.
The mosque is a particularly notable example of Marinid architecture. The main entrance is a 7 meter high, elaborately decorated monumental gate behind which are stairs and leading to the actual door to the mosque. The vestibule is adorned withintricately carvedplasterpanelsand a muqarnas dome. The next set of doors "consists of two panels of cedarwood covered in chiselled and engraved bronze leaf," and opens onto the courtyard. In the center is a basin for ablution.
The square courtyard is enclosed by the archway of the prayer hall that
faces the main entrance, and on either side of this by two elevated
galleries (reserved for women); along each of its other sides. Opposite the monumental entrance is the prayer hall, with horse shoe arcades, elaborate stucco decorations in floral, calligraphic, and geometric motifs, and a muqarnas dome. The brick minaret is square, decorated with ceramic tile, a style similar to that of the Kutubiyya in Marrakech. The hammam, ablution station, and latrines for the mosque are still in service, to the east of the mosque.
The tomb of Sidi Boumadyan is found at a lower level than its courtyard entrance. One descends steps in order to reach a small square courtyard surrounded by galleries of horseshoe arches held up by onyx columns. The
two bands on either side of the qubba door carry an inscription in Andalusian Maghrebi. The qubba, which houses the tomb that is separated off by a woodwork screen, is a square construction surmounted by a dome that is covered by a four-slope
According to the Nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage List submitted by Algeria, the tomb chamber houses the remains of the Abu Madyan and "Sidi Abd-es-Selàm, the Tunisian." The door to the street from the tomb is elaborated decorated with a painted floral motif a two columns from the Ottoman era. An antechamber is built around a central courtyard. --Michael A. Toler, Archnet Content Manager, AKDC@MIT
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Sidi Bou Mediène (Sidi bu-Medina) Nomination to the World Heritage List. Submitted by Algeria. Translated from French. December 31, 1981. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0004/000492/049287Eb.pdf
Zawiyya Sayyidi Abu Madyan
Shrine Complex of Sayyidi Abu Madyan (Translated)
Mosquée et Mausolée Sidi Bou Mediène (Alternate)
Sidi Bou Medine Mosque and Mausoleum (Variant)
Qubba Sidi Bou-Médyen (Alternate)
Qoubba Sidi Boumediène (Alternate)
Mosque of El-Eubbad (Formerly known as)
Zawiya al-'Abbad (Alternate)
Mosquée et mausolée d’al-'Ubbâd (Alternate)
Mosquée de Sayyidî Abû Madyan (Alternate)
مسجد ابو مدين (Original)
late 12th century/6th century AH qubba, 1339/740 AH mosque, Late 18th century/early 13th century AH restorations to the complex