In: Quaderni di Archeologia della Libya: 24, 2022
Despite the negative characteristics that initially seemed to discourage the location chosen for its construction, the zāwiyah of al-Jaghbūb, south of the Qattara depression and a short distance west of the Egyptian oasis of Sīwa, did enjoy a prosperous life for a few decades (from 1856 to 1895). In this period its various functions (religious, educational and commercial) found a synthesis that allowed the zāwiyah to develop, and helped make it the main center of the Sanusi brotherhood in the Libyan Sahara, and its first Holy City. Initially founded as the residence of the founder of the brotherhood (Muḥammad binʿAlī al-Sanūsī), his family and his principal companions, in just over a decade the zāwiyah turned into a real village, enclosed within walls. It became the largest of the settlements built in the Libyan territory by the ṭarīqa al-Sanūsīyya, hosting within it, in the traditional form of many madāris of the Islamic world, students destined for higher education. It was a unique example of a multifunctional space, of a ‘new city’ (whatever its human dimension), comparable in the history of Libya only to the villages that arose later, in the period of Italian colonization. Today only the documentary traces of the archives and historical writings remain of the ancient walled village: after passing unscathed through the wars and battles of the first half of the 20th century, the religious buildings of the zāwiyah were destroyed in 1984, during a period of political struggle that saw the disappearance of other constructions linked to the Sufi tradition. These destructions foreshadowed the annihilation of many edifices dedicated to the cult of saints in Libya in recent years, which has led to the loss of a significant part of the historical-architectural heritage of the country.
Keywords: Sahara libico, Giarabub, sufismo, confraternite musulmane, Senussia Libyan Sahara, al-Jaghbūb, sufism, Islamic brotherhoods, ṭarīqa al-Sanūsīyya.