Photograph: Muhammad al-RoumiPhotograph: Muhammad al-RoumiPhotograph: Muhammad al-RoumiPhotograph: Muhammad al-RoumiPhotograph: Muhammad al-RoumiPhotograph: Muhammad al-RoumiPhotograph: Muhammad al-Roumi

Name of Monument:

Madrasa al-‘Adiliyya


Northwest of the Great Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

Date of Monument:

Hegira 568–620 / AD 1172–1223

Period / Dynasty:

Atabeg/Zangid and Ayyubid


Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi (d. AH 569 / AD 1174); al-Malik al-‘Adil Sayf al-Din Abu Bakr (d. AH 615 / AD 1218); al-Malik al-Mu’azzam ‘Issa Sharaf al-Din (d. AH 624 / AD 1227).


One of Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi's later constructions, this madrasa is a fine example of contemporary architectural aesthetic. It was founded in AH 568 / AD 1172, dedicated to the shafi'i rite, and left incomplete at the time of Nur al-Din's death in AH 569 / AD 1174. Bereft of both a patron and waqf endowment, it was not until the reign of al-Malik al-‘Adil Sayf al-Din Abu Bakr in AH 592 / AD 1196, that construction resumed and the madrasa was named al-‘Adiliyya after him. When he died in AH 615 / AD 1218, his son al-Malik al-Mu'azzam spent four more years preparing the mausoleum for his father and securing a waqf for the madrasa's continuity. By AH 620 / AD 1223 the building was finally complete and the waqf secured.
The madrasa represents one of the most important Ayyubid buildings in Damascus, located in the Suq al-Hamidiyya area, about 100 m northwest of the Umayyad Mosque. It stands in a narrow street facing another important madrasa, this one from the early Mamluk period, called Madrasa al-Zahiriyya. The recessed portal and the building's exterior is part of Nur al-Din's original design. The portal, which is at least 10 m high, is entered from the eastern side. It has an overhanging vault decorated with a pair of square-based muqarnas domes hidden behind a pendant keystone and tri-lobed arches. A bracketed frieze decorates the top of the recess as well as the door frame. There is a rectangular panel of carved interlaced stars situated above the door's lintel and below the founder's inscription. An ablaq motif of contrasting basalt and limestone adds another decorative element to the door frame.
The madrasa is of remarkable size and monumental spirit, measuring more than 1,600 sq m in area. The entrance leads through a cross-vaulted vestibule into a courtyard with a central basin of typical Ayyubid shape: square with bracketed corners. Surrounding the courtyard, there is a large barrel-vaulted northern iwan to the left; a narrow western iwan flanked by four student cells ahead; a corner chamber for solitary religious contemplation, and a long cross-vaulted prayer hall accessible through five bays to the right. The prayer hall has a central mihrab with a gored niche and a muqarnas. At the southeastern corner of the madrasa is the grand, domed mausoleum of al-Malik al-‘Adil, nearly double the height of the madrasa's interior walls. To receive the prayers of passers-by, it has a pair of windows overlooking both sides of the street corner.
The architecture is sober and the decoration elegant; it contrasts with the more ornate Mamluk edifice of the Madrasa al-Zahiriyya just facing it, though the latter was clearly inspired by the former.The Madrasa al-‘Adiliyya is distinguished by the perfection of masonry construction which reflects the strong influence of Aleppine architecture. As the largest of the shafi'i rite madrasas in Damascus, it witnessed visits from important scholars from all over the Islamic world: historians, linguists, and theologians, the illustrious scholar Ibn Khaldun being one of them.

View Short Description

This important Ayyubid monument was begun by Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi. Its smooth stonework bears influences from Aleppo and its recessed portal is capped by a pair of square-based muqarnas domes behind a pendant keystone. The grand mausoleum to the left of the entrance is where the Ayyubid ruler al-Malik al-‘Adil is buried. Architecturally, it is typical of Islamic mausoleums, with an honorific dome over a square room and windows overlooking the street to receive the prayers of passers-by. Many famous scholars visited this important madrasa, including the philosopher of history, Ibn Khaldun.

How Monument was dated:

The monument is dated by an inscription above the doorway that states it was founded by Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi in 568 / 1172, a dating that is verified by historical texts and by the architectural continuity of the exterior masonry. The completion of the madrasa by al-Malik al-‘Adil and his son is proven by the location of the formers' mausoleum and also by historical texts.

Selected bibliography:

Allen, T., “Ayyubid Architecture”, Occidental (electronic publication 7th edition), 2003.
Al-Nu'aymi, A. Q. (d. 927 / 1520), Al-Daris fi Tarikh al-Madaris [The Study of the History of the Madrasas], Damascus, 1947.
Burns, R., Monuments of Syria: An Historical Guide, London-New York, 1999.
Sauvaget, J., Les Monument Ayyoubides de Damas – Livraison II, Paris, 1938.

Citation of this web page:

Abd al-Razzaq Moaz, Zena Takieddine "Madrasa al-‘Adiliyya" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021.;ISL;sy;Mon01;39;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 10


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