_Sidi-Brahim Mosque, El Atteuf, M’Zab Valley_
On a postcard to his brother, Le Corbusier wrote: “Arabic architecture is tender and humane, dignified and filled with calm and beauty”.
In the 11th century, the Mozabites, masters of islamic art and architecture, founded in the M’Zab Valley, in the Saharan desert, an oasis comprising of seven settlements, El Atteuf, Mélika, Bou-Noura, Beni-Izguen, Guerra, Bériane and Gherdaia, today a UNESCO world heritage site. The buildings are of great simplicity and beauty, and have captured the interest of modern architects. Just outside the walls of El Atteuf lies the Sidi-Brahim Mosque, which so fascinated Le Corbusier during his travels in Algeria, that he is said to have been inspired by its shape and proportions, as well as its use of natural light and ventilation, when designing the chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp.
Built next to the tomb of Sheik Brahim, this simple, almost abstract, whitewashed building stands in stark contrast to the red earth of its surroundings. It is a funerary mosque, meant for families who share common descendants. The mosque was built from locally available materials. Stone for the load bearing walls and columns, palm trunks for the beams and rafters, and embedded palm trunks for the arches, giving each a slightly different shape. The structure is covered with lime mortar applied by hand or with palm fronds. The entire external and internal surfaces are whitewashed for weather protection, making it a brilliant contrast with the ochre of its surroundings.
The structure comprises of a prayer hall giving access to small circular chamber set half underground and an upper room for the Sheik set halfway up the walls. The roof of the principle space in the interior of the mosque (the prayer hall) is supported by arc spanned columns. Recesses in the walls are used occasionally to accommodate items such as oil lamps. Outside is an area for prayer and the cemetery.
The drawings of the Sidi-Brahim Mosque below formed part of the successful application in 1981 for the inclusion of the M’zab Valley into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Special thanks to Lucile Smirnov from ICOMOS Documentation Centre (International Council on Monuments and Sites), for patiently photographing the plans for me.
Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Haut by Le Corbusier: