Name of Monument:

Shamma’iya Madrasa


In the Medina, Tunis, Tunisia

Date of Monument:

Hegira 634–47 / AD 1236–49

Architect(s) / master-builder(s):

‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn al-Qasim. Abu Zakariyya having delegated the construction of his mosque to him, it is quite possible that he was both the architect and the master of works of the madrasa.

Period / Dynasty:



Abu Zakariyya I, founder of the Hafsid Dynasty.


Erected by Abu Zakariyya I to organise the diffusion of the Almohad rite, this is the first madrasa founded in the Arab Maghreb.
Archaeological examination and information from different sources indicate that this monument has not preserved all the original elements present at its foundation. Shaykh Abu al-Rayth al-Kashash restored it in the 11th / 17th century but its current form is due to the dey Ahmed Khuja, who seconded the bey Hammuda Pasha in the government of the country (1050–7 / 1640–7).


The madrasa is reached by means of a high stone staircase. The off-set entrance gives onto the centre of the courtyard, opposite the mihrab of the oratory. The courtyard is surrounded by porticoes on all four sides, each having three horseshoe arches supported on columns with Hafsid capitals. Two iwans are set under the northeast and southeast galleries, flanked with cells. This feature links this first Maghrebian madrasa with the oriental model and especially with the Egyptian model.
To the left of the entrance, a staircase leads to the next floor. Its design differs from that of the first level, which suggests it was added later on. From a gallery with square pillars and a balustrade, issue 19 bedrooms and a prayer hall more spacious than that of the lower floor.
The main characteristic of this madrasa is the simplicity of its decoration, which is limited to the lining of the floor and the walls with ochre limestone (kadhal). The facades are remarkably symmetrical and are endowed with multi-foiled niches and arcatures over the central doors.

View Short Description

This was the first madrasa founded in the Arab Maghreb, built by Abu Zakariyya I to spread the beliefs of the Almohad sect. Its architecture is reminiscent of Eastern models, particularly Egyptian. The salient characteristic of this madrasa lies in the simplicity of its decoration, which uses only ochre limestone (kadhal) on the floors and walls. The remarkably symmetrical façades are decorated with poly-lobed niches and arches above the central doors.

How Monument was dated:

Historical sources. In 737/1337, the historian al-'Umari mentions the existence of three madrasas, including the Shamma'iya, which was built first.

Selected bibliography:

Ben Khouja, M., “Athar al-Hafsiyyina fi insha al-madaris bi al-Maghrib” (La trace hafside dans l'édification des madrasa au Maghreb), revue Al-thurayya, Tunis, 1945.
Brunshwig, R., Quelques remarques historiques sur les Medersas de Tunis, Revue tunisienne, No. 6, 1931, pp.261–85.
Mamouri, T., Djamic al-Zaytuna wa madaris al-ilm fi al-ahdayni al-hafsi wa al-turki (The Zaytuna and madrasa of the Hafsids and Turks), Tunis, 1980.
Marçais, G., L'architecture musulmane d'Occident, Paris, 1954, pp.469–70.

Citation of this web page:

Mohamed Béji Ben Mami "Shamma’iya Madrasa" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021.;ISL;tn;Mon01;13;en

Prepared by: Mohamed Béji Ben MamiMohamed Béji Ben Mami

Né le 27 janvier 1950 à Tunis, docteur en archéologie islamique, Mohamed Béji Ben Mami est directeur général de l'Institut national du patrimoine et vice-président de la Municipalité de Tunis. Il a restauré, sauvegardé et mis en valeur plus d'une cinquantaine de monuments de la médina de Tunis, dirigé les fouilles de grands sites islamiques et organisé diverses expositions relatives à la civilisation arabo-islamique.
Depuis 1996, il est vice-président de l'Union des historiens arabes et représentant de l'Union des archéologues arabes de Tunisie.
Mohamed Béji Ben Mami a pris part à divers congrès internationaux et publié plusieurs articles et ouvrages, parmi lesquels Tourbet el-Bey (Tunis, 2004) et Les médersas de la médina de Tunis (Tunis, 2005).

Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: David Ash
Translation 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: TN 13


 Artistic Introduction

 Timeline for this item

Islamic Dynasties / Period


On display in

Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)

The Muslim West | Science and Knowledge


As PDF (including images) As Word (text only)