Le Col du Juif at Tlemcen, Algeria

Col Du Juif on the outskirts of Tlemcen (تلمسان / Tlemsan / ⵜⵍⴻⵎⵙⴰⵏ), Algeria. 


Due west of Tlemcen, heading from the city toward the Moroccan border, is a curious spot known as “Agbet El Yahoudi” or the “Hill of the Jew.” Locals refer to the spot regularly, as it is a major landmark on the outskirts of Tlemcen. The hill, according to local legend, commemorates a Jewish architect who died on the spot in 1294. The anonymous builder was employed by Yusuf the Merinide, who conquered Tlemcen and built for himself the mosque-castle of Mansoura. This builder, legend has it, may also have been the first human being to fly.

While Yusuf laid siege to Tlemcen, the local inhabitants resisted fiercely. The attacker’s large encampment outside Tlemcen grew into a mini-city of its own, and the need arose to build a mosque for the soldiers. Two outstanding builders were summoned, one Muslim and one Jewish, both equally talented. Yusuf assigned the minaret’s interior to the Muslim and the exterior of the tower to the Jew. When it was finished, Yusuf was delighted with the result. The Muslim a large quantity of gold. The Jew, by contrast, was reminded that, as an infidel, he had defiled the mosque and could be put to death. Yet in recognition of his achievement, he would be allowed to live, but confined to the top of the minaret.

The Jew refused to accept his fate. In a few hours, using some wood, silk cords, and his remaining tools, he fashioned a pair of wings to attach to his body. At the moment the sun set, he leapt from the minaret and began to fly. Unfortunately, he had been rushed in his work and the wings soon broke. As Icarus, the poor builder fluttered and then crashed to his death, supposedly several kilometers away. The spot where he landed is to this today named in his memory.

Tlemcen, Algeria

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