The Last Civilized Place: Sijilmasa and Its Saharan Destiny

The Last Civilized Place: Sijilmasa and Its Saharan Destiny

by Ronald A. Messier, James A. Miller


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The Last Civilized Place: Sijilmasa and Its Saharan Destiny by Ronald A. Messier, James A. Miller

Set along the Sahara's edge, Sijilmasa was an African El Dorado, a legendary city of gold. But unlike El Dorado, Sijilmasa was a real city, the pivot in the gold trade between ancient Ghana and the Mediterranean world. Following its emergence as an independent city-state controlling a monopoly on gold during its first 250 years, Sijilmasa was incorporated into empire—Almoravid, Almohad, and onward—leading to the "last civilized place" becoming the cradle of today's Moroccan dynasty, the Alaouites. Sijilmasa's millennium of greatness ebbed with periods of war, renewal, and abandonment. Today, its ruins lie adjacent to and under the modern town of Rissani, bypassed by time.

The Moroccan-American Project at Sijilmasa draws on archaeology, historical texts, field reconnaissance, oral tradition, and legend to weave the story of how this fabled city mastered its fate. The authors' deep local knowledge and interpretation of the written and ecological record allow them to describe how people and place molded four distinct periods in the city's history. Messier and Miller compare models of Islamic cities to what they found on the ground to understand how Sijilmasa functioned as a city. Continuities and discontinuities between Sijilmasa and the contemporary landscape sharpen questions regarding the nature of human life on the rim of the desert. What, they ask, allows places like Sijilmasa to rise to greatness? What causes them to fall away and disappear into the desert sands?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477311356
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Publication date: 05/01/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Ronald A. Messier is Professor Emeritus of History at Middle Tennessee State University. From 1987 to 1998, he directed the excavation of Sijilmasa. He is the author of The Almoravids and the Meanings of Jihad and coeditor of The Jihad and Its Times.

James A. Miller is the Director of the Moroccan-American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange (MACECE), the Fulbright Commission in Morocco. He is Associate Professor Emeritus of Geography at Clemson University and the author of Imlil: A Modern Moroccan Geography.

Table of Contents

Notes on Dates and Transliteration


Prologue. Ibn Battuta's Sijilmasa Journey

Chapter 1. Approaches to Sijilmasa

Chapter 2. Confluence of Time and Space in Morocco's Desert Land

Chapter 3. Founding the Oasis City

Chapter 4. Sijilmasa in Empire

Chapter 5. Moroccan Rulers at the Desert's Edge: The Filalians

Chapter 6. Out of Sijilmasa: The Alaouites

Chapter 7. Using Models of the Islamic City as Guides

Chapter 8. An Altered Present; An Uncertain Future

Appendix 1. Moroccan Dynastic Rulers Governing Sijilmasa

Appendix 2. Ceramics Typology





What People are Saying About This

Jere Bacharach

"Messier and Miller are among the few Americans working on pre-modern North African topics. They are possibly unique in their role as joint practitioners of urban Islamic archaeology for North Africa. They are more qualified to write this type of book than any other combination of scholars I know. . . . [This] book reflects an effective integration of archaeological data with an urban history, and can be a model for the study of any pre-modern Muslim city from the Atlantic to the Indus Valley."

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