Today in history: The first Fatimid city was inaugurated

Mahdiyya Mosque portal (Photo: Jonathan Bloom)
Mahdiyya Mosque portal (Photo: Jonathan Bloom)

The city of Mahdiyya, founded by the Fatimid-Caliph Imam al-Mahdi, was inaugurated on February 20, 921.

Imam al-Mahdi was proclaimed caliph in Sijilmasa (near modern-day Rissani in Morocco)  in 909, marking the foundation of the Fatimid Caliphate, which began the ‘golden age’ of Ismaili thought and literature, and one of the greatest eras in Islamic and Egyptian history.

In order to have better access to the Mediterranean and eastern lands, Imam al-Mahdi founded the coastal town named after him, transferring his capital there in 921.

Mahdiyya was equipped with a large shipyard that enabled the Fatimids to possess a powerful fleet. When the Fatimids gained control of Sicily in the tenth century, the island developed vital trade relations with Ifriqiya. Palermo (in Sicily), with its numerous mosques, became a flourishing centre of traditional Islamic sciences. Fatimid Sicily played an important role in the transmission of Islamic culture to Europe.

Sqifa al-Kahla gate in Maddiyya (Photo: Gasmi Raouf)
Sqifa al-Kahla gate in Maddiyya (Photo: Gasmi Raouf)

The oldest Fatimid architectural structures – one of two city gates (the Sqifa al-Kahla) and the mosque – are still preserved in the modern-day small town. Over the centuries, the mosque fell to ruins until the 1960s, when it was completely restored and is used again.

Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis: Their history and doctrines, Cambridge University, 1990
Heinz Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., London, 1997

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

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