Sought after by the many Islamic dynasties who ruled in the Maghreb since the 8th century Tlemcen became the Royal seat of the Zayyanid dynasty, who ruled from a palace complex called ‘The Mechouar’, protected by an impenetrable, fortified wall.
In 1299, Abu Ya’qub el Mansour – “The Victorious” – decided to lay siege on the Zayyanid-controlled city. Abu Ya’qub was the Sultan of a rival Merenid dynasty based in Morocco. Suspecting that the Zayyanid rulers of Tlemcen would put up a fight, Abu Ya’qub and his Merenid army established a military camp outside Tlemcen’s city walls, complete with a 147 foot-high watchtower; the ruins of which can be visited today. It was called ‘El Mansourah’. Legend has it that the Ya’qub rode his horse up the steps of the tower every night to observe the enemy.
Over the eight years of siege that took place, El Mansourah transformed into something of a defensive commune, complete with mosques, religious schools, a courtyard and a minaret, all protected by castellated walls and 88 smaller watchtowers. Despite this vast and impressive military base, the Merenid Sultan Abu Ya’qub failed in his efforts to overthrow the Zayanids from Tlenmcen. He was assassinated by a eunuch in 1307 and the Merenids were not to attempt capture of the city again until 40 years later.
By Ian Sciacaluga