Name of Monument:

Qal'at Ja'bar


Situated on the left bank of the Euphrates, east of where it meets the Balikh River; 45 km west of Raqqa, Raqqa region, Syria

Date of Monument:

Hegira first half of the 5th–mid 7th century / AD first half of the 11th– mid-13th century

Period / Dynasty:

Seljuq, Zangid, Ayyubid


The only patron known by name is Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi (r. AH 541–69 / AD 1146–74).


While occupied since the Byzantine period, the site gained considerable strategic significance during the AH 5th / AD 11th century as a major crossing point on the Euphrates River. The site was acquired by an individual called Ja'bar ibn Sabiq al-Qushayri (d. AH 464 / AD 1071–2), after which it is presently named Qal'at Ja'bar. Between AH 458 / AD 1065 and AH 564 / AD 1169, Jabar remained under the rule of the Uqailids – a local dynasty nominally responsible to the Seljuq amirs of Aleppo while maintaining important alliances with the newly created Crusader states to the west.
A turning point in the Crusaders' advance was the appearance of Atabeg Imad al-Din Zangi, ruler of Mosul. After Imad al-Din's death, the Zangid lands were divided among his sons Sayf al-Din Ghazi, who held Mosul, and Nur al-Din Mahmud, who became lord of Aleppo. Nur al-Din took over Jabar from the Uqailids in AH 564 / AD 1168, making the fortress an extension of the Aleppine emirate. In AH 593 / AD 1193, the site passed to Salah al-Din's brother al-Adil, who ruled in al-Jazira. From then on, it became an Eastern-oriented fortress constituting a key area of the Ayyubid state against the antagonistic Zangids of Mosul. In AH 657 / AD 1258–9 the fortress was largely destroyed by the Mongol raids under Hülagü and left as a ruin in subsequent times.
The fortress stretches 320 m from north to south and 70 m from east to west, surrounded by two curtain walls with arrow slits, both provided with more than 35 salient towers of semi-circular, semi-octagonal or rectangular ground plan. The entrance at the southwest corner of the wall is topped by a small arch, guarded by two towers. A large vaulted building with a particularly well-preserved brick decoration rises immediately above the entrance.
A cylindrical minaret on a 5-m-high square base rises from the middle of the fortress. The upper part is marked by an inscription band that mentions Nur al-Din, flanked by two bands of continuous saltire crosses, which are topped by dogtooth moulding. Sitting above the inscription band, at the top of the minaret, are four arched windows connected by a single row of pearl design, alternated with inlaid lozenges of patterned brick. The cylindrical shape of the minaret marks a decisive break with the tradition of square minarets in Syria, as seen at the Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo, and the Great Mosque of Ma'arrat al-Nu'man just outside Aleppo. Meanwhile, the shape of the minaret at Qalat Jabar is seen predominantly in Iran and illustrates the Eastern influence on the architecture of the area, as does the building material: mud brick, most commonly used in Iraq and Iran.
The dating of the site as we see it today is not entirely clear. It is known that Nur al-Din ordered vast restoration works after the earthquakes of AH 552 / AD 1157 and AH 565 / AD 1170. In addition to the minaret and the mosque he commissioned, he was probably also the patron of the fortification walls.

View Short Description

The citadel was a strategic key post at a major crossing point on the River Euphrates. First serving as a military stronghold against the Byzantines, during Zangid and Ayyubid rule the fortress was enhanced and more oriented towards the east against the rivaling Zangids of Mosul. Although it is the easternmost outpost under Aleppine rule, its architectural and decorative features are less Aleppine and more far more strongly Mesopotamian and Eastern-inspired. Most striking today is the cylindrical minaret built by Nur al-Din in the late AH 6th / AD 12th century, a shape that is not recorded in western Syria.

How Monument was dated:

Contemporary historical sources report that major restoration and construction works were undertaken by Nur al-Din Zangi. The minaret is provided with an inscription of Nur al-Din.

Selected bibliography:

ابن شدّاد, عز الدين أبو الحسن علي الحلبي (توفي 1285 م). الأعلاق الخطيرة في ذكر أمراء الشام و الجزيرة. دمشق 1953.
[Ibn Shaddad, Izz al-Din (d. 1285), Al-A'laq al-Khateera fi dhikr Umara al-Sham w al-Jazira [The Crucial Core in the Mention of the Rulers of Greater Syria and the Jazira, Damascus, 1953.]
Tonghini, C. and Franken, H. J., Qalat Jabar Pottery: A Study of a Syrian Fortified Site of the Late 11th–14th Centuries, Oxford–New York, 1998.
Hillenbrand, R., “Eastern Islamic Influences in Syria: Raqqa and Qalat Jabar in the later 12th century”, The Art of Syria and the Jazira 1100–1250, (J. Raby, ed), 1985.

Citation of this web page:

Verena Daiber "Qal'at Ja'bar" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021.;ISL;sy;Mon01;38;en

Prepared by: Verena Daiber
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: SY 28