Is this Wagner's legendary Monsalvat?
No, this is not Monsalvat, the mythical castle of the Knights of the Grail in Parsifal. My photos show the 12th century mosque in Tinmel at an altitude of 1270 metres in the High Atlas mountains 100km from Marrakech . But links between this astonishing edifice in a remote Moroccan village and Richard Wagner's opera may not be entirely fanciful. Because, as Wolfgang Wagner recounts in his autobiography, Wagner indicated that the imaginary setting of Monsalvat was in the mountains of Islamic Spain, and the Tinmel Mosque has close connections with al-Andalus.
The High Atlas is Berber country and the region has powerful resonances for Morocco's indigenous peoples. In 1125 Ibn Toumert, a Masmuda Berber, founded the Almohad tribal movement based in Tinmel in opposition to the controlling Almoravid dynasty. Ibn Toumert declared himself the Mahdi - the redeemer of Islam prophesied to appear before the Day of Judgment to rid the world of evil. The mosque was constructed in the style of the Great Mosque of Taza near Fes by Ibn Toumert and his followers to serve as a madrasa - Koranic school - and family mausoleum.
Ibn Toumert died in 1130 and the mosque was completed by his successor Abd el Moumen twenty-five years later. After the Almohads seized Marrakech in 1147 the capital of the dynasty was moved to the Red City and Tinmel lost its strategic importance. By 1159 the Almohads had conquered the whole of the Maghreb - North Africa - and thirteen years later all of Islamic Iberia was under their rule. Following their conquest of al-Andalus the Almohads moved their capital to Córdoba and then Seville. In the 13th century the tide of Muslim caliphates and dynasties turned again: following the capture of Marrakech by the Merenids the Almohads fled back to Tinmel. In 1276 the Merenids captured Tinmel, killing the entire population and leaving only the mosque standing. With the population of the remote area decimated the mosque progressively fell into decay; it was extensively renovated in the 1990s and added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 1995.
Wagner based Parsifal on the story Parzival attributed to the Middle High German poet and Minnesinger Wolfram von Eschenbach (c1170 - c1220/30). In Book 1 of Parzival, Gahmuret (father of Parzival) travels to North Africa, and the Vintage Books 1961 English translation of the story mentions Morocco twice. Wagner did not travel to Morocco, yet alone Tinmel, so any connection between the Almhad mosque and Parsifal is purely conjecture. But there are other fascinating speculative links between the opera and Islam. One view, which originates from Wolfram von Eschenbach, is that the legend of the Grail was originally found in an Arabic manuscript in Toledo. It has been postulated that Amfortas and the evil magician Klingsor represent Christianity and Islam respectively, while the absence of women from Parsifal's ideal society has been interpreted as reflecting the values of orthodox Islam.
Even more contentiously, as recounted in a post which posed the question Are we ready for an Islamic interpretation of Wagner? the controversial Muslim cleric and prolific author Abdalqadir as-Sufi - also known as Ian Dallas - interpolated a comprehensive Islamic sub-text to Parsifal in his book The New Wagnerian. The Moroccan link emerges again here as Ian Dallas' spiritual guide was Sidi Muhammad Ibn Al-Habib, shaykh of the Darqawa Sufi tariqa in Morocco. There is more on Abdalqadir as-Sufi and his sphere of influence in my post Untold story of the counterculture's Islamic connection.
Many will dismiss these proposed sectarian sub-texts for Parsifal as contrived and irrelevant, a view I have sympathy with. But if their rehearsal draws attention to an architectural wonder which has been dubbed, quite rightly, 'the forgotten mosque' - note the absence of people in my photos - this post will have served its purpose.
My travel arrangements in Morocco were made through the admirably efficient Mohamed Aztat's Atlas Trek Shop in Imlil, and Rashid was the reassuringly competent driver for the potentially hazardous journey to the Tinmel Mosque and on over the Tiz n'Test Pass. My accommodation was in properties owned by Mohamed, the Ouirgane Ecolodge and Dar Adrar in Imlil. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).