Morocco earthquake damages historic mountain mosque

(Reuters) – Morocco’s deadly earthquake badly damaged one of the most important historical sites in the High Atlas mountains, an earth-and-stone mosque built by a medieval dynasty that conquered North Africa and Spain.

Moroccan media reported that parts of the Tinmel Mosque had collapsed. Photographs circulating online, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed tumbled walls, a half-fallen tower and large piles of debris.

Responding to a Reuters question about the reported damage to Tinmel, a Moroccan Culture Ministry source said “the ministry has decided to restore it and will make budget for it”, without giving details.

The 12th-century mosque was built where the Almohad dynasty established its first capital in a remote Atlas valley before going on to seize Marrakech, proclaim its leader Caliph, and march on across the region propelled by religious zeal.

The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO said it had heard of “very important destructions to the Tinmel Mosque”, which it added had been proposed for listing as a World Heritage site, but added it was still waiting to send a team to assess the damage.

At least 2,000 people have died in the 6.8-magnitude quake, the most destructive in the area since at least 1900. It struck on Friday night, ruining traditional buildings across the High Atlas and collapsing mud-brick and stone houses in many villages seen by Reuters.

The quake also caused damage to the old city of Marrakech, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where a minaret toppled over and parts of the historic city walls collapsed along with some traditional houses.

(Reporting by Zakia Abdennebi in Rabat, Ahmed Eljechtimi in Marrakech and Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Frances Kerry)