Online Lecture: Medinas of the Maghreb and the concept of Islamic city: Between texts and models

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A lecture by Amine Kasmi, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, University of Tlemcen, Algeria

Tuesday, January 25, 2022, 5:00pm - 6:30pm; Registration Required: https://libcal.mit.edu/calendar/events/MaghrebiMedinas

Abstract:

On the question of an archetypal model of the Islamic city, several regional scholars and Orientalists have tried to give some answers, each focusing on a specific aspect to the originality of these cities. Some even expressed great skepticism toward the concept of "Islamic city" as an urban ideal of the Muslim world.

The medinas of the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia), like most medieval Islamic cities, are characterized by the centralization of the main religious and economic institutions. They are also divided into specialized districts so that the compact districts of the residential areas are clearly distinguished from an economic district that is morphologically much less dense.

Defensive structures also hold a prominent place in the medieval Islamic conception of the city, expressed through ramparts, crooked streets, and vaulted passages. It should be added that medieval Islamic cities generally incorporated most characteristics of medieval European cities, including the concept of enclosure. However, in the case of the medinas in the Maghreb, this sense of enclosure is pushed to the extreme for climatic and military reasons, as well as the constant concern for the protection of privacy.

On the other hand, Islamic cities as human settlements suggest additive growth. This does not mean that cities developed haphazardly, but rather development proceeded according to a voluntaristic design, structured by non-geometric paths connecting various destinations, the most significant of which were the mosque, the souk, and residential quarters. We can note many similarities of the medinas throughout the Maghreb. This is especially true given that the early Islamic conquests favored the generalization of the same ideas. In less than a century after the emergence of Islam, several new cities sprang up following the model of Medina, the first city of Islam.

The purpose of this lecture is to confront various theoretical conceptions of this issue in order to trace morphological and landscape characteristics of Maghrebi medinas.

The lecture is intended for all audiences interested in the historical development of cities in the Maghreb or Islamic societies more broadly. No prior knowledge is required.

About the Speaker:

Amine Kasmi is a conservation architect and associate professor at the Department of Architecture, University of Tlemcen, Algeria. He teaches courses and conducts research in the history of urban design with a particular focus on the tensions between modern town planning and traditional urban fabric. His areas of interest also include the interaction between Islamic architecture and other architectures in the medieval Mediterranean world. He worked on numerous urban conservation sites in Algeria as well.