The Last Civilized Place: Sijilmasa and Its Saharan Destiny is a new book by Ronald Messier and James Miller. It is also the subject of a lecture by the authors at the ALC/ALIF Annex Auditorium on Monday October 26th at 6 PM
Many people know the word, "Sijilmasa," and regard its existence as merely legendary. What was the reality of Sijilmasa, perhaps the most important forgotten place in Moroccan history?
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 empires — 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.
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?
About the authors:
Professor Ron Messier is professor emeritus at the Department of History at Middle Tennessee State University and his interest in numismatic history led to him organising the project to excavate Sijilmasa, which began in 1987 with a visit to the site and continued over six seasons of digging from 1988 to 1998,
James Miller, Director of the Moroccan-American Commission in Rabat, is a cultural geographer who taught in the Department of History and Geography at Clemson University in South Carolina for 29 years before coming to Rabat in 2009 to run the Fulbright Program.
The ALIF Annex is at 22 Rue Mohamed Diouri in the Ville Nouvelle.