The building is located on the western border of the Haram al-Sharif between Bab al-Silsila (Gate of the Chain) and Bab al-Qattanin (Gate of the Cotton Merchants), both of which lead to the Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem
Hegira 887 / AD 1482
The names of those who designed and executed construction are not known but it is believed that they were Egyptian workmen headed by a Coptic architect.
The founder of the madrasa was Sultan Zahir Sayf al-Din Khashqadam (r. AH 865–72 / AD 1461–7) but he died before it was finished. Sultan Ashraf Saif al-Din Qaytbay (r. AH 872–901 / AD 1468–96) ordered its completion, but when he saw the madrasa for the first time in AH 880 / AD 1475, he was not satisfied and ordered it to be demolished and rebuilt.
Madrasa al-Ashrafiyya is the most beautiful and grandiose of the madrasas of Mamluk Jerusalem. The historian, Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali (d. AH 928 / AD 1521), described it as the third jewel of the Haram al-Sharif, after the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. The Madrasa al-Ashrafiyya consists of two levels: the ground floor and the first floor. The ground floor extends eastwards, thereby entering the Haram al-Sharif, and stretches out over the western wall of the Haram. This is contrary to the other madrasas in the vicinity, since the Mamluk madrasas were erected on the borders of the Haram (Sanctuary) and not within it. The entrance to the Madrasa opens on the eastern and southern side with two tapered arches. The entrance is covered by a fan-shaped vault, built of alternating colours of red and white stone. The door is set into a recessed wall covered by a semi-dome, and enriched with carved decorations that are also inset with glazed ceramic tiles. Standing on either side of the entrance are two mastabas of stone. And at the height of two courses from the surfaces of the mastabas, there is an inscription stating the date of constructionand extolling the most prominent titles of Sultan Qaytbay.
The entrance leads to the vestibule, to the north of which was once a large hall known as the assembly hall (Qa'at al-Majma'). On the eastern wall of the hall there is a door and two windows opening onto the terrace of the Haram al-Sharif. In the northern wall there is also an entrance and window; while on the southern wall there is another window and a mihrab decorated with coloured marble. Once the assembly hall of the Aqsa Mosque Library, it has recently become a training centre for the restoration and preservation of manuscripts and documents.
To the south of the vestibule there is a stone stairwell which leads to the first floor and to a minaret that towers above Bab al-Silsila. The first floor of the madrasa consists of a hall, which has four iwans in a cruciform plan; the largest being the southern iwan, which contains the mihrab. Today large parts of the first floor are in ruins, and nothing remains of the iwans except the walls. Despite this, the ground plan is clearly evident, for it corresponds with the Mamluk design of the four-iwan cruciform plan, in the middle of which is the central courtyard.
This is a large Mamluk architectural complex and the historian Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali considered it the third most beautiful building of al-Haram al-Sharif. The entrance of the madrasa is a rare artistic piece, composed of a number of different elements and Mamluk decorative motifs. The madrasa has two storeys and includes halls of study, residence rooms, a mosque, library and rooms for other amenities. The top storey has a four-iwan cruciform plan around an open courtyard. The building was partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1927, resulting in extensive damage especially to the top storey.
The building is dated by the inscription at the entrance and by the waqf document specific to the madrasa. Historic documents also provide evidence for the date.
Burgoyne, M., Mamluk Jerusalem: An Architectural Study, London, 1987
Al-Hanbali, Mujir al-Din, (d. 927 / 1520), Al-Uns al-Jalil fi Tarikh al-Quds wa al-Khalil [The Significant Ambiance in the History of Jerusalem and Hebron], Amman, 1973.
Ibrahim, Abd al-Latif, “Watha'iq al-Sultan Qaytbay: Silsalat al-Dirasat al-Watha'iqiyya 2 [Documents of Sultan Qaytbay: A Series of Documentary Studies 2]”, in Al-Mu'tamar al-Thalith lil Athar fi al-Bilad al-'Arabiya [The Third Conference for Archaeology in Great Syria], Cairo, 1961.
Walls, A., “The Third Jewel of the Third Shrine of Islam”, in Arts and the Islamic World, No. 2, 1984, pp.7–12.
Pilgrimage, Sciences and Sufism: Islamic Art in the West Bank and Gaza, pp.88–90.
Yusuf al-Natsheh "Madrasa al-Ashrafiyya" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;pa;Mon01;8;en
Prepared by: Yusuf Al-NatshehYusuf al-Natsheh
Yusuf Said Natsheh is a Palestinian and since 1997 he has been Director of the Department of Islamic Archaeology in al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. He is a lecturer at al-Quds University. He was educated in Jerusalem and Cairo and in 1997 obtained his Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Dr Natsheh is a council member of many Palestinian societies for architectural heritage and a consultant for various projects on Jerusalem. He has written books and more than 40 articles about Jerusalem's architectural heritage including the architectural survey of Ottoman architecture in R. Hillenbrand and S. Auld (eds) Ottoman Jerusalem: The Living City 1517–1917 (London: Altajir World of Islam Trust, 2000). He has contributed to many international and national conferences. He supervised the restoration project, sponsored by the Arab League, on Mamluk monuments in and around al-Haram al-Sharif, and was Palestinian expert for the UNESCO mission to Jerusalem in 2004.
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: PA 08
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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