Name of Monument:

Madrasa of al-Salih Najm al-Din Ayyub

Also known as:

Al-Madrasa al-Salihiyya


The madrasa is located on a distinctive site on the Fatimid street called al-Muizz li Din Allah Street known for being on the procession path of the Shi’a Fatimids (Bayn al-Qasrayn), Cairo, Egypt

Date of Monument:

Hegira 641 / AD 1243

Period / Dynasty:



Sultan al-Salih Najm al-Din Ayyub (r. AH 637–47 / AD 1240–9) the last of the Ayyubid sultans.


The Madrasa of al-Salih Najm al-Din Ayyub was erected on the site where the Fatimid Eastern Palace once stood. It was built to teach the four sunni schools of fiqh (jurisprudence), and is considered to be the first school built in Egypt for that purpose. Shajarat al-Durr, the wife of the sultan, al-Salih Najm al-Din, added a mausoleum in which the sultan was buried in AH 648 / AD 1250. Thus an Ayyubid architectural complex was built in the heart of Fatimid Cairo that offered the city a new architectural style. Much admired by the Mamluks, the new manner was imitated in the Mamluk complexes that gradually extended along al-Muizz Street, forming the main artery, or kasba, of the City of Cairo.
From the beginning of the AH 5th / AD 11th century the Islamic state participated actively in the building of schools that were high-level educational foundations aimed at religious instruction according to the four Sunni Schools of Law (Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbalii and Hanafii). These schools encouraged students to delve deep into the knowledge and the propagation of Islamic beliefs. Historical sources, such as the Khitat of al-Maqrizi, mention that during the Ayyubid period Sunni Schools in Cairo numbered 24. However, today, all the buildings that housed these schools have been obliterated, and nothing remains of them except the ruins of two: the Madrasa Kamiliyya (built AH 622 / AD 1225), and this one, the Madrasa Salihiyya, where a part of the western iwan, laying in close proximity to the mausoleum belonging to the builder, its façade and entrance, and the minaret still stand.
The principle façade of the madrasa was built from dressed stone aligned with meticulous attention and composed of a tripartite structure: the middle section, which includes the entrance and its sides, measures 18 m; the right-hand section measures 31 m; and the left-hand section measures 26 m. The middle section reaches a height of 12 m, while the left- and right-hand sections are approximately 11.50 m high. In the middle section (the entrance) there is a horizontal band of inscription carved in the naskhi script which bears the name of the builder and which offers supplications for him. In the middle of this section, which is surmounted by a lintel composed of interlocking voussoirs, is an arched niche ornamented by five rows of muqarnas which crowns the entrance.
The madrasa has a minaret, which rises above the entrance block indicating the entrance that today leads to the Salihiyya Alley, and which was originally the principle passage dividing the two identical wings of the school. The minaret, built of brick covered with white plaster, is the only remaining intact minaret of the Ayyubid dynasty. Restored in 1995, it is composed of three parts: The lowest section of the main body is a square shaft whose length measures 5 m and height, 10.40 m. It is decorated with three arched recesses. Above it is an octagonal form whose height reaches 5 m, and which includes eight doors decorated with lobed arches opening out on to a wooden octagonal balcony, from which the call to prayers is made. The minaret is crowned above the octagonal form with two rows of muqarnas, topped by a lobed dome. This type of minaret is called al-mabkhara (the incense burner) due to the distinctive octagonal section and the dome, which crowns it closely, resembling Ayyubid metal incense burners. This style of minaret continued to be popular up to the beginning of the Mamluk period, as seen in the minaret of the Khanqah of Baybars al-Gashanqir dating to AH 709 / AD 1310. The minaret then developed subsequently during the Mamluk period to the point where the octagonal storey increased in height and became a principle component of the minaret.
The plan of the madrasa is composed of two identical buildings (the schools) which have a single, shared, entranceway and a shared façade. The entrance leads to a passageway with two opposing doors. The eastern door leads to the two iwans of the Maliki and Shafi'i Schools, and the western door leads to the two iwans of the Hanbali and Hanafi Schools. Thus, each side consists of two independent schools composed of two confronting iwans, in the middle of which is an open courtyard. This design layout may be considered as a transitional stage to the conventional madrasa layout of four axial iwans (cruciform), which appeared later in the Mamluk period.

View Short Description

This madrasa is the first school founded in Egypt to instruct in the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence. It heralded, together with the mausoleum of its sponsor, a new architectural style in Cairo. It became a model for later constructions that rose along Al-Muizz street in the heart of the city throughout the Mamluk period. Its minaret is the only one extant from the Ayyubid period. Its octagonal section with the dome that crowns it resembles an incense burner.

How Monument was dated:

The building was dated based on an epigraphic inscription in the upper part of the entrance, which includes the name of the sponsor and the date of construction.

Selected bibliography:

Abu Shama, Shihab al-Din 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Ismail al-Maqdisi (d. 665 / 1267), Al-Rawdatain fi Akhbar al-Dawlatain al-Nuriya wa al-Salihiyya [The Two Gardens in the Information on the Nuriya and Salihiyya States], Cairo, 1962.
Behrens-Abouseif, D., Islamic Architecture in Cairo: An Introduction, Cairo, 1998.
_____________, Minarets of Cairo, Cairo, 1985.
Creswell, K. A. C., Muslim Architecture of Egypt, Vol. II,Oxford, 1960.
Fikri, A., Masajid al-Qahira wa Madarisuha – al-'Asr al-Ayyubi [Mosques of Cairo and its Madrasas – The Ayyubid Period], Cairo, 1969.
Herz, M., “Mosquées et Tombeau du Sultan Saleh Negm El-Dyn Ayyoub”, Bulletin du Comité de la Conservation des Monuments Arabes, Cairo, 1902.
Williams, C., Islamic Monuments in Cairo: The Practical Guide, Cairo, 2002.

Citation of this web page:

Tarek Torky "Madrasa of al-Salih Najm al-Din Ayyub" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024. 2024.;ISL;eg;Mon01;7;en

Prepared by: Tarek TorkyTarek Torky

Tarek Abdel Aziz Torky holds a BA in Islamic and Coptic Antiquities from Cairo University (1982). He is currently Head of the Statistics Department at the Information Centre of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and reporter of the committee set up to prepare for the celebrations of the centennial of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo. As Expo Curator for the Discover Islamic Art project in Egypt he prepared the database information for the Egyptian monuments included in the project and participated in formulating the dynastic and cross-dynastic exhibitions. He has participated in the first phase of the Islamic Art in the Mediterranean project as product manager and prepared the texts and photos for the catalogue Mamluk Art: the Splendour and Magic of the Sultans (MWNF, 2001). In 2002 he obtained a scholarship for Med. Master on new technologies for valorisation and management of Mediterranean Cultural Heritage in Ravello, Salerno.

Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
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: ET 07


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