Qastal al-Shu’aybiyya / Mosque of the Mulberry (Jami’ al-Tuta)
Near the Gate of Antioch, Aleppo, Syria
Hegira 545 / AD 1150
Sa’id al-Muqaddasi (or al-Maqdisi) bin ‘Abd Allah.
Atabeg / Zangid
Nur al-Din Mahmud bin al-Zangi (r. AH 541–69 / AD 1146–74).
Madrasa al-Shu`aybiyyah, along with its nearby qastal (water distributor), was built by Nur al-Din Mahmud bin al-Zangi in AH 545 / AD 1150–1.
As was often the case, the madrasa was located within an older mosque related to legends surrounding the early Arab conquests of Aleppo. It was also known as Jami' al-Tuta probably because a Mulberry tree once grew by the mosque's corner. On a more functional level, the madrasa and its neighbouring qastal marks the western boundary of Nur al-Din's intramural water project. Artistically, it exhibits one of the most remarkable examples of ornate calligraphic and floral stone carving.
Nur al-Din dedicated the madrasa to the teachings of Sheikh Shu'ayb bin al-Husayn bin Ahmad al-Andalusi, a follower of the shafi'i rite who originally came from Muslim Spain. The madrasa was thus named after him.
The most artistically important surviving feature of the madrasa is the cornice decorated with virtuoso stone-cutting techniques. Located on top of the façade, it looks like an antique entablature. There are three inscriptions found on the façade. The major one, which runs along the entire length of the entablature moulding, is executed in beautifully carved stone displaying elaborate floral, vegetal and beaded patterns as well as a highly intricate floriated Atabeg kufic script. These calligraphic inscriptions site verses from the Qur'an typically found on religious buildings.
The second inscription serves a signatory purpose. A carved medallion located in the keystone of the façade's arch reveals the name of the architect as Sa'id al-Muqaddasi. His name indicates that he originally came from Jerusalem. The last inscription is fragmentary but very important. It mentions the name of the Prophet's companion and the second Caliph of Islam, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, thus establishing an intentional link to early Islamic history. It also includes the date of construction of the madrasa in AH 545 (AD 1150).
Although the shape of the cornice is a distinctly classical element quite different from the muqarnas vaults that were to become typical in AH 6th- / AD 12th-century Syrian architecture, it is not an imitation of an antique prototype. Rather, it is a new and more elaborate creation, intricately carved with sophisticated calligraphic inscriptions and vegetal motifs. It is one of the most brilliant surviving works of its kind.
This madrasa, commissioned by Nur al-Din in AH 545 / AD 1150, displays masterful stone-cutting techniques unrivalled in the surviving monuments of the period. Intricate Atabeg kufic inscriptions and multi-layered vegetal scrolls can be seen running along the surviving cornice of the madrasa's Antique-style entablature. The madrasa was built in attachment to an old and highly revered mosque, as educational institutions were often built in the vicinity of religious buildings. The area also included an important system of water distribution. All were renovated during Nur al-Din's rule.
The edifice is dated by an inscription located over the qastal (water distributor) which was part of the mosque's reconstruction and the madrasa's development under Nur al-Din Mahmud bin al-Zangi.
Allen, T., A Classical Revival in Islamic Architecture, Wiesbaden, 1986, pp.1–22; figs. 1, 3–9, 11.
Herzfeld, E.,“Matériaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum: Syrie du Nord”, Part 1: Inscriptions et monuments d'Alep, Vol. 1, Cairo, 1955, p.222–7.
Sourdel-Thomine, J., “Le Coufique Alepin de l'Epoque Seljoukide”, Melanges Louis Massignon, Vol. 3, IFEAD, 1957, pp.301–17.
Tabbaa, Y., “Survivals of Archaisms in the Architecture of Northern Syria: 1080–1150”, Muqarnas, 10,1993, pp.29–41; figs. 13, 14.
Ibn Shaddad, 'Izz al-Din (d. 1285), Al-A'laq al-Khateera fi dhikr ‘Umara al-Sham wa al-Jazira. [The Crucial Core in the Mention of the Rulers of Greater Syria and the Jazira], Damascus, 1953, p.105.
Talas, M. A., Al-Athar al-Islamiyya wa al-Tarikhiyya fi Halab [Islamic and Historic
Monuments in Aleppo], Damascus, 1957, pp.63–4.
Zena Takieddine, Samer Abd al-Ghafour "Madrasa al-Shu’aybiyya" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;3;en
Prepared by: 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., Samer Abd al-Ghafour
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: SY 03
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Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Atabegs and Ayyubids | Madrasas and Education
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