Beni Hammad Fort: Ruins Attest the Dreams of a Medieval Algerian Islamic Dynasty
Today, only the ruins of the city attest to the important status Beni Hammad Fort once enjoyed in the history of Algeria. It saw glory as a Medieval stronghold and as the capital of a local dynasty before people sought out other chances elsewhere and the once great fort was abandoned then partially destroyed.
Who Founded Beni Hammad Fort?
Known also as Al Qal’a of Beni Hammad, the site is a fortified city located close to the town of Maadid, in the Algerian part of the Maghreb. It is located about 225 km (140 miles) to the southeast of Algiers, the capital of modern day Algeria. Al Qal’a of Beni Hammad and Algiers have some historical ties. During the 2nd half of the 10th century, Algeria, part of Ifriqiyya, was under the control of the Fatimid Caliphate. When the Fatimids moved from Mahdia (in Tunisia) to their new capital, Cairo, one of their local supporters, Bulluggin ibn Ziri was appointed as their viceroy. It was Bulluggin who founded the city of Algiers, and established the Zirid Dynasty.
Beni Hammad Fort, Algeria. (Public Domain)
When Bulluggin died in in 984, he was succeeded by one of his sons, al-Mansur ibn Bulluggin. One of al-Mansur’s brothers, Hammad ibn Bulluggin, was appointed governor of the central Maghreb. It was Hammad who founded the Beni Hammad Fort, which served as his capital. From this fortified city, Hammad increased his power by extending his control over the surrounding area. In 995, al-Mansur died, and was succeeded by his son, Badis ibn Mansur.
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Hammad’s growing influence in the central Maghred began to worry his nephew, and rightly so. In 1014, Hammad converted to Sunni Islam and became supporter of the Abbasid Caliphate, who were the enemies of the Fatimids, and founded his own dynasty. As a consequence of this, the Zirids declared war on the Hammadids, and attacked the fort in 1017. The Hammadids were able to withstand the siege, however, and were later granted independence by the Zirids.
Architectural Highlights of Beni Hammad Fort
As the capital of the Hammadid Dynasty, Beni Hammad Fort was monumentalized by its rulers. One of the most impressive structures in the fortified city was the Great Mosque. This was the second largest mosque in Algeria (the largest being the Mansourah Mosque), and boasts of having the second oldest minaret in the country (the oldest being that of the Sidi Boumerouane Mosque). The prayer hall of the Great Mosque contains 13 aisles with 8 bays each.
Stitched Panorama of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, in Tunisia. (MAREK SZAREJKO/CC BY SA 2.0) The Great Mosque at Beni Hammad Fort had a similar design.
Another notable structure in the city is the Dal al Bahr (meaning ‘Lake Palace’), which served as the ruler’s residence. This was a residential complex separated by pavilions and gardens. The name of this palace is derived from the rectangular pool within the complex. This pool, which measured 67 x 47 meters (220 x 154 ft.), had a ramp from which theatrical performance and sporting events could be carried out. The Dal al Bahr and the Great Mosque are testaments to the splendor that was enjoyed by the city and the Hammadid Dynasty.
Reconstruction of the fort. (Yelles/CC BY SA 3.0)
Destruction and a New Status
This came to an end, however, in 1090. In 1045, the emir of the Zirid Dynasty, al-Mu’izz, switched his allegiance from the Fatimids to the Abbasids. In response to this, the Fatimids sent groups of Arab nomads, the Banu Hilal, to attack the Zirids.
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In 1090, the Banu Hilal threatened Bani Hammad Fort, causing its inhabitants to abandon the city. In 1152, the last ruler of the Hammadid Dynasty, Yahia, surrendered to the Almohads, who were based in Morocco. The Almohad rulers proceeded to destroy parts of the fort.
Today, the ruins of Beni Hammad Fort are a tourist destination. Moreover, in 1980, the site was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the reasons being that it bears witness to “the great refinement of the Hammad civilization, an original architecture and the palatial culture of North Africa.”
The fortress ruins. (CC0)
Top image: The ruins of Beni Hammad Fort. Source: Public Domain
By: Wu Mingren
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