Mausoleum of Saladin (Salah al-Din)
The building faces the north wall of the Great Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria
Hegira 589–92 / AD 1193–6
Al-Malik al-Afdal Nur al-Din ‘Ali (r. AH 582–92 / AD 1186–96).
Salah al-Din's (Saladin's) tomb is located next to the northwestern corner of the Great Umayyad Mosque. Although Saladin died in AH 589 / AD 1193, he was initially interred at the Damascus Citadel until his son al-Malik al-Afdal Nur al-Din 'Ali, ruler of Damascus, completed the construction of the mausoleum. Saladin's body was transferred to its final resting place on the holy day of 'Ashura in AH 592 (AD 1195). Soon afterwards, Salah al-Din's other son, al-Malik al-Aziz ‘Uthman (‘Uthman II), ruler of Egypt, decided to construct a madrasa attached to his father's tomb. Thus it is also known as al-Madrasa al-'Aziziyya. The events surrounding the death and burial of Saladin are clearly recorded in the historical sources, based on the eyewitness account of Imad al-Din al-Isfahani (d. AH 597 / AD 1201), who was Saladin's confidant and administrative genius.
The construction of the tomb is typically Damascene: a square chamber with ablaq walls and four arches capped by a cupola. The movement from square room to circular dome is achieved by a transitional drum in two zones: octagonal and 16-sided polygonal. The interior of the tomb chamber is mounted with blue and green Ottoman tiles of the AH 11th / AD 17th century known as qashani. More subtle decoration can be seen in the stone-paste floral and geometric designs above the arches.
In the middle of this domed chamber lie two coffins. The white marble coffin was a gift from the German Emperor William II on the occasion of his visit to Damascus in 1903. Next to it is the original wooden cenotaph, a masterpiece of the linear interplay typical of Ayyubid woodworking. It is decorated with geometric and astral patterns as well as floral and vegetal motifs.
The tomb chamber occupies the southwest corner of the building. A chamber used for Qur'anic recitation is accessible from its east side and a series of five smaller rooms are found along the north side. As for the building's exterior and its connection to the Madrasa Aziziyya, little of this original architecture has survived to modern times.
Saladin's tomb is located in close proximity to the Great Umayyad Mosque and is considered a holy site. His mausoleum was built by his sons after his death in AH 589/ AD 1193 and his body was transferred there in 592 / 1195. The architecture is typically Damascene Ayyubid: a square chamber decorated with alternating muti-coloured stones and capped by a dome. The coffin itself is a very important example of the art of Ayyubid woodcarving. A second coffin, made of white marble, was presented as a gift to Damascus by the German Emperor in 1903.
The original inscriptions have been modernised, but contemporary Ayyubid histories contain accounts of Salah al-Din's burial. Stylistic comparisons of Damascene Ayyubid architecture also support the 6th- / 12th-century dating.
Allen, T., “Ayyubid Architecture”, Solipsist Press (electronic publication 7th edition), 2003.
Burns, R., Monuments of Syria: An Historical Guide, London-New York, 1999.
Moaz, A. R., “Note sur le mausolée de Saladin à Damas: son fondateur et les circonstances de sa fondation”, Bulletin d'etudes Orientales, V, 1989, pp.39–40, 184–9.
Sauvaget, J., "Le cenotaphe de Saladin", Revue des Arts Asiatique, 1930, p.168–75.
Moaz, K., "Madafin al-Muluk wa al-Salateen fi Dimashq [The Tombs of Kings and Sultans in Damascus]" Al-Howliyyat al-Athariyya al-Suriyya [The Syrian Archaeological Annals], Vol. I, Part II, 1951, pp.235–53.
Abd al-Razzaq Moaz, Zena Takieddine "Mausoleum of Saladin (Salah al-Din)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;14;en
Prepared by: Abd Al-Razzaq MoazAbd al-Razzaq Moaz
Abd al-Razzaq Moaz is Deputy Minister of Culture, in charge of Cultural Heritage and Head of EU projects, at the Ministry of Culture, Syria. He was born in Damascus in 1962. He received his BA in History at the University of Damascus in 1985, a DEA in Archaeology from the University of Provence, Aix-en-Provence in 1987, and his Doctorate in Archaeology from the same university in 1991. He was a Scholar at the Institut Francais d'Etudes Arabes de Damas, Damascus, 1991–3 and was a Visiting Scholar at the Aga Khan Progam for Islamic Architecture, Harvard University and MIT, USA in 1993/4, at Granada University, Spain in 1994, at Harvard University (Fulbright Scholar) in 1995 and at Harvard University Urban Planning Department in 1996. He was a lecturer at Damascus University, 1997–9 and Visiting Professor, Harvard University in spring 1999. He was Director General of Antiquities and Museums, Syria, from 2000 to 2002. He speaks Arabic, French and English., Zena TakieddineZena Takieddine
Zena Takieddine is a researcher of Arab history and Islamic art. She received her BA in history (with distinction) from the American University of Beirut, and her MA in art and archaeology (with distinction) from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She has a diploma in art and antique connoisseurship from Sotheby's, London. Her fields of interest include pre-Islamic Arabian epigraphy and the development of the Arabic script, early Islamic art and architecture, Arab miniature painting, the study of intercultural influences between Islamic civilisation and the Christian West during the medieval period, and post-colonial methodology in the study of history and identity.
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 18
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | War and Horsemanship Al-Franj: the Crusaders in the Levant | Saladin in the Holy Land
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