Cenotaph of Badr al-Sharafi
Bab al-Saghir, Damascus, Syria, Damascus, Syria
Hegira Dhu'l Qa'da 514 / AD 1121
Badr bin ‘Abd Allah al-Sharafi.
The Cenotaph of Badr al-Sharafi is a fine example of epigraphic stone carving virtuosity and a masterpiece of Atabeg calligraphy.
The stone cenotaph is rectangular; its cornerstones surmounted by an architectonic domed composition. The central plaque displays an elegant epitaph framed by a trapezoidal cartouche; the horizontal sides are straight while the slanting vertical sides are cusped and curvilinear. It is equally divided across the middle to accommodate two lines of epigraphy: “Badr son of 'Abd Allah al-Sharafi, died in Dhu'l Qa'da, the year fourteen and five hundred”, a smaller superscript concludes: “God have mercy on him”.
The aesthetic qualities of this cenotaph warrant appreciation and are seen in, for example, the balanced breadth and comfortable spacing of the Arabic lettering. The rhythmic verticality of the Arabic letters are elegantly inscribed along the lower portion of the epigraphic bands and placed over a delicate background of thin and scrolling acanthus leaves that run across the upper portion of the bands. This subtle contrast of angular, non-superfluous calligraphy with spiralling vegetal motifs, is tribute to the creativity and sensitivity of Atabeg kufic epigraphy.
Even though the epitaph gives an exact name and date, there are no records of anyone by the name of Badr al-Sharafi in the available contemporary histories. He was probably a member of the military elite at the time of Atabeg Tughtigin, Governor of Damascus for the Seljuq Sultan Duqaq (r. AH 497–507 / AD 1104–13).
Badr al-Sharafi's tomb was located in the oldest cemetery in Damascus: the cemetery of Bab al-Saghir, in the southwestern corner of the old city. The tomb was mysteriously removed some time over the previous century, but academic sources fortunately preserved an eye-witness drawing while the cenotaph was still in situ. The cemetery itself is symbolically important, known to have been the sight where the conquering Sahaba (companions of the Prophet) fell in AH 13 / AD 634 while taking over Damascus. As the 'Abbasids destroyed any traces of their Umayyad predecessors and antagonists, none of this early material evidence survived. The site was important for the Fatimid dynasty who venerated the family of the Prophet and their burial sites, particularly those descended from his nephew, the Imam Ali. Under the Atabeg Turks, the cemetery was grandly renovated and expanded. Many tombs executed in the Seljuq Atabeg style, which anachronistically carried the names of the Sahaba and the Umayyad caliphs that had died nearly half a millennium before, were constructed at this time signifying the historical importance of the site.
The cemetery continues to be a popular site of pilgrimage to this day for both Sunni and Shi'i visitors. It houses the tombs of members and descendants of the Prophet's family, most notably the Mausoleum of Fatima Al-Sibti.
The delicate interlacing of angular kufic script with curvilinear arabesques is a very attractive feature of this cenotaph. The two lines of inscription indicate the name of the deceased, Badr al-Sharafi, and the year of his death, AH 514 / AD 1121. Although the identity of this person is unknown, the refined quality of the cenotaph indicates he was probably of high rank, perhaps a member of the Atabeg military elite. The cenotaph was originally located in the Bab al-Saghir cemetery, the most important burial grounds of Damascus, but it has been mysteriously removed since it was last documented in 1977.
The monument is dated by the inscription which reads: 'Badr son of 'Abd Allah al-Sharafi, died in Dhu'l Qa'da, the year fourteen and five hundred' (514 ).
Moaz, K., and Ory, S., Inscriptions arabes de Damas: Les steles funeraires, cimitiere d'al Bab al-Saghir, Damascus, 1977.
Sourdel-Thomine, J., “Les monuments ayyoubides de Damas”, Vol. IV, Epitaphes coufiques de Bab Saghir, Paris, 1950.
Sauvaget, J., Les Monuments ayyoubides de Damas – Livraison II, Paris, 1938.
Abd al-Razzaq Moaz, Zena Takieddine "Cenotaph of Badr al-Sharafi" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;6;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 09
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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