The Ancient City of Sijilmasa

The western ridge of ancient Maghreb is now Morocco. During the medieval period it was home to a city by the name of Sijilmasa, which became a vital trade post as it was located on the Trans-Saharan trade route, and quickly became the trade Mecca of Maghreb during what is described as the Golden Age of the history of the Berber Dynasties. It has a very rich history, as the Amazigh Dynasties tried on numerous occasions to invade the city during the Berber Islam Golden Age.

What remains of this ancient city can be viewed on the banks of the Ziz River, which is located in the Tafilelt oasis. The closest town to the oasis is Rissani. The al-Bakri’s Book of Routes and Places indicates that Sijilmasa was established during the eighth century by a Spanish Miknasa Berber who was named Abu ‘l-Qasim Samgu bin Wasul al-Miknasi. According to the accounts recorded by this book, he was joined by other Berbers and once they became approximately forty strong, they began constructing the city and appointed Isa bin Mazid the Black as their leader. He was later executed as he was accused of corruption, after which Abu al-Qasim was chosen as the town’s leader.

Due to the trade routes shifting, the city quickly began to develop in importance as a trade post and an economic power. Because of this power Sijilmasa was able to claim its independence from the Abbasid Caliphate in 771. Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi Billah, who later established the Fatimid Dynasty, fled to the city with his son, al-Qasim, in 905, as alliances began to shift, and he was avoiding Abbasid’s persecution, hiding in Sijilmasa for a four year period.

After being ruled by the Maghrawa Government for sixty years, the city came under the rule of the Almoravids who enforced Islam on the city, and remained in control of Sijilmasa until the year 1146, when the Almohad took control. The city underwent numerous changes of rulership. Sultan Moulay Ismail rebuilt Sijilmasa during the eighteenth century, but the city was destroyed by Ait Atta nomadic tribes in 1818.

Today the site is recognized as an endangered site by the World Monuments Fund, and the Moroccan Ministry of Culture are doing their utmost to preserve this ancient site. Excavations and surveys have shown that the city once had a bustling ceramics industry, supplied gold to the gold trade industry and that they had an intricate irrigation system to accommodate their agricultural industry. Visitors to Sijilmasa will be taken back in time on a journey of success, invasion and finally destruction.