The Ribat of Monastir
15 x 28 cm
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Founded in 796, under the reign of the great Abbasid caliph Harum al-Rashid, the ribat of Monastir is one of the most prestigious monuments of medieval Islam. A tradition attributed to the prophet Mohammed assimilated it to a door to paradise.
The original building was in the form of a square fort flanked with round towers at each corner. The watchtower from which light signals were sent stood in the south-east corner. The prayer room, which has now been converted into a museum, houses a rich collection of pieces of Tunisian and Egyptian origin.
Successive additions (IXth, XIth, XVth century) turned the original small fort into an imposing citadel, flanked with bastions and with a total of eight prayer rooms, their number confirming the twofold religious and military purpose of the monument.
The ascetics forming the garrison in the ribat were, indeed, fervent proponents of orthodox Islam. In exchange for privileges granted by the authorities, they took responsibility for the surveillance of the coastline in order to prevent raids by Christian fleets. The ribat was also the centre of intensive agricultural activities and housed merchants and travellers on the last leg of their journey.