Sufi City

Sufi City

Urban Design and Archetypes in Touba

Eric S. Ross


University of Rochester Press



A book about contemporary urban design, a metaphysical worldview and a cultural process that transcends the pre-colonial/colonial/post-colonial divides.
Sufi City: Urban Design and Archetypes in Touba is a geographical study of the modern Muslim holy city of Touba in Senegal, capital of the Mouride Sufi order. Touba was founded in 1887 by a Sufi shaykh in a moment of mystic illumination. Since the death of the founder in 1927, the Mouride order has designed and built the entire city. Touba is named for Tûbâ, the "Tree of Paradise" of Islamic tradition. This archetypal tree articulates Islamic conceptions of righteous life on earth, divine judgment, and access to the Hereafter; the city of Touba actualizes this spiritual construct. Important aspects of its configuration, such as the vertical and horizontal alignment of its monumental central shrine complex, its radiating avenues and encircling ring roads, and the actual trees that mark its landscape relate directly to the archetypal tree of Sufi theosophy.
The relationship between the spiritual archetype and its earthly actualization as a city is explained by recourse to Sufi methodology. The book employs a semiotic analysis of urban form, cartography, hermeneutics, field investigation and analysis of satellite imagery in order to relate contemporary urban design issues to overarching metaphysical concepts. Sufi City also explores the history of urban networks in Senegal since the emergence of autonomous Muslim towns in the seventeenth century. Finally, the layout of Senegal's modern Sufi cities is related to the monumental palaver trees that marked that country's historic settlements.

Eric S. Ross is a cultural and urban geographer who holds a degree in Islamic Studies. Since 1998 he has been Assistant Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. Apart from research on Sufi orders and Muslim towns in Senegal, he has studied cultural tourism and urban planning in Morocco.

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November 2006
56 black and white illustrations
308 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora
ISBN: 9781580462174
Format: Hardback
University of Rochester Press
BISAC REL090000, ARC005080, ARC010000
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Table of Contents

Archetypes: Sufi Phenomenology and the Semiosis of Landscape
Urban Design: The Spatial Configuration of a Spiritual Project
Marabout Republics Then and Now: Autonomous Muslim Towns in Senegal
The Pénc: Trees and Urban Design in West Africa


One has to look hard to find fault with this work. It crosses numerous disciplinary boundaries, concompassing aspects of urban history, African and Islamic Studies and cultural geography in a manner that should appeal to all those with an interest in any or all those fields. URBAN HISTORY JOURNAL [Stephen J. Salm]

[Ross's] insights have carried the study of African Islamic urban history and morphology to a new level of understanding, one which goes far beyond those that have dominated Africanist literature to date. This study is a must for anyone interested not only in the morphology of the Islamic city, but in the African fabric of settlement design-at-large. --Labelle Prussin, architect; author of Hatumere: Islamic Design in West Africa

Touba may be unique in the world of Islam, as a 20th-century urban complex of wholly Sufi design and social purpose. With signal clarity, intellectual fervor, and exceptional sensitivity, Eric Ross introduces readers to the mystical depth and vibrancy of Touba, the second largest city of Senegal. Sufi City deserves broad attention, for its many contributions disprove any sense that sub-Saharan African achievements are peripheral to Islam or Islamic Studies. --Allen F. Roberts, Professor of World Arts and Cultures and Director of African studies at the University of California, Los Angeles; and co-author of A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal

A new and fresh look at African cities that bridges the all too frequent gap between African and Islamic studies, Sufi City will be of great use for researchers, professors, and students in urban studies, African studies, and Islamic studies. --John Shoup, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Al Akhawayn University, Morocco

Author Bio

Eric Ross is professor of geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco.

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