Mabrak al-Naqa Mosque
Hegira 530 / AD 1136
Amin al-Dawla Abu Mansur Gumushtakin (d. AH 541 / AD 1146).
While the historical sources refer to the founding of madrasas in Damascus as early as AH 491 / AD 1098, Madrasa Gumushtakin is the earliest example of a Syrian madrasa extant. It is located in the southern city of Bosra in the region of the Hawran, an important location on the north–south pilgrimage and trade route. The Atabeg of Damascus, Tughtakin, gave the region of Hawran to the Turkish Seljuq General, Gumushtakin, as a personal fief early in the AH 6th / AD 12th century; the latter immediately set about its renovation. The Madrasa Gumushtakin is one of the general's later constructions; it is attached to an older mosque known as Mabrak al-Naqa, literally translated as “the place where the she-camel rested”. According to legend, the first copy of the Holy Qur'an was sent to Syria on the back of a camel, and the spot where the animal rested subsequently became a holy place and a centre of learning. The sanctity of the site is also highlighted by the nearby basilica where, according to the biography of the Prophet Muhammad, the Nestorian monk al-Bahira recognised Muhammad's prophethood while the latter was still a child accompanying his uncle on a trading trip.
Madrasa Gumushtakin was built adjoining the eastern wall of the Mabrak al-Naqa Mosque; a change in the size of the masonry is easily discernible between the two buildings. According to an inscription on the north side, construction of Gumushtakin's madrasa began in AH 530 / AD 1135 and it was dedicated to teaching the Hanafi rite.
The madrasa is built using black stone known as basalt, a material that is indigenous to the Hawran region. The madrasa has an open, square courtyard and four symmetrical iwans roofed by horizontal slabs of basalt, a technique that is not feasible with the softness of Damascene and Aleppine limestone; hence it is a local feature. The southern and main iwan is significantly more spacious than the others, thus its ceiling is supported by an additional arch. A curtain wall with a triangular formation of three doors topped by arched windows separates this iwan from the courtyard. This feature is repeated on the smaller north iwan. Both the north and south iwans are flanked by a pair of rooms on each side. Traces of a second floor are discernable which probably included student dwellings. Few traces of the stucco decoration survive, found mostly around the mihrab in the south iwan.
The evolution of the axial symmetric madrasa plan from its monumental Persian origins to its vernacular manifestation in Syria is a major feature of the construction boom brought on by the Seljuqs and continued by the Atabegs and the Ayyubids. The unparalleled rapidity with which the madrasa emerged during the AH 6th / AD 12th century in Syria indicates a development and appropriation of the architecture of the madrasa beyond the tradition derived from the Persian East.
The madrasa is a public urban institution dedicated to the propagation of education, particularly theological and legal studies of the Sunni rite. As a building type, it was brought to Syria from Iran by the Seljuq Atabegs some time during the AH 5th / AD 11th century. The Madrasa Gumushtakin, located in the southern city of Bosra and dated to 530 / 1136, is the earliest surviving example of a Syrian madrasa. It shows elements of local adaptation but also bears the typical features of Syrian madrasas, namely an axial symmetric courtyard surrounded by iwans.
The monument is dated by an inscription on the north side above a small doorway.
Allen, T., “Ayyubid Architecture”, Solipsist Press (electronic publication 7th edition), 2003.
Hillenbrand, H., Islamic Architecture: Form, Function and Meaning, Edinburgh, 1994.
Meinecke, M., Patterns of Stylistic Change in Islamic Architecture, New York, 1995.
Auland, F., Meinecke, M., al-Muqdad, R. S., Islamic Bosra: A Brief Guide, Damascus, 1990.
Abd al-Razzaq Moaz, Zena Takieddine "Madrasa Gumushtakin" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;37;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 GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: SY 27
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | Madrasas and Education
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