Name of Monument:

Madrasa al-‘Adiliyya


Northwest of the Great Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

Date of Monument:

Hegira 568–620 / AD 1172–1223

Period / Dynasty:

Atabeg/Zangid and Ayyubid


Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi (d. AH 569 / AD 1174); al-Malik al-‘Adil Sayf al-Din Abu Bakr (d. AH 615 / AD 1218); al-Malik al-Mu’azzam ‘Issa Sharaf al-Din (d. AH 624 / AD 1227).


One of Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi's later constructions, this madrasa is a fine example of contemporary architectural aesthetic. It was founded in AH 568 / AD 1172, dedicated to the shafi'i rite, and left incomplete at the time of Nur al-Din's death in AH 569 / AD 1174. Bereft of both a patron and waqf endowment, it was not until the reign of al-Malik al-‘Adil Sayf al-Din Abu Bakr in AH 592 / AD 1196, that construction resumed and the madrasa was named al-‘Adiliyya after him. When he died in AH 615 / AD 1218, his son al-Malik al-Mu'azzam spent four more years preparing the mausoleum for his father and securing a waqf for the madrasa's continuity. By AH 620 / AD 1223 the building was finally complete and the waqf secured.
The madrasa represents one of the most important Ayyubid buildings in Damascus, located in the Suq al-Hamidiyya area, about 100 m northwest of the Umayyad Mosque. It stands in a narrow street facing another important madrasa, this one from the early Mamluk period, called Madrasa al-Zahiriyya. The recessed portal and the building's exterior is part of Nur al-Din's original design. The portal, which is at least 10 m high, is entered from the eastern side. It has an overhanging vault decorated with a pair of square-based muqarnas domes hidden behind a pendant keystone and tri-lobed arches. A bracketed frieze decorates the top of the recess as well as the door frame. There is a rectangular panel of carved interlaced stars situated above the door's lintel and below the founder's inscription. An ablaq motif of contrasting basalt and limestone adds another decorative element to the door frame.
The madrasa is of remarkable size and monumental spirit, measuring more than 1,600 sq m in area. The entrance leads through a cross-vaulted vestibule into a courtyard with a central basin of typical Ayyubid shape: square with bracketed corners. Surrounding the courtyard, there is a large barrel-vaulted northern iwan to the left; a narrow western iwan flanked by four student cells ahead; a corner chamber for solitary religious contemplation, and a long cross-vaulted prayer hall accessible through five bays to the right. The prayer hall has a central mihrab with a gored niche and a muqarnas. At the southeastern corner of the madrasa is the grand, domed mausoleum of al-Malik al-‘Adil, nearly double the height of the madrasa's interior walls. To receive the prayers of passers-by, it has a pair of windows overlooking both sides of the street corner.
The architecture is sober and the decoration elegant; it contrasts with the more ornate Mamluk edifice of the Madrasa al-Zahiriyya just facing it, though the latter was clearly inspired by the former.The Madrasa al-‘Adiliyya is distinguished by the perfection of masonry construction which reflects the strong influence of Aleppine architecture. As the largest of the shafi'i rite madrasas in Damascus, it witnessed visits from important scholars from all over the Islamic world: historians, linguists, and theologians, the illustrious scholar Ibn Khaldun being one of them.

View Short Description

This important Ayyubid monument was begun by Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi. Its smooth stonework bears influences from Aleppo and its recessed portal is capped by a pair of square-based muqarnas domes behind a pendant keystone. The grand mausoleum to the left of the entrance is where the Ayyubid ruler al-Malik al-‘Adil is buried. Architecturally, it is typical of Islamic mausoleums, with an honorific dome over a square room and windows overlooking the street to receive the prayers of passers-by. Many famous scholars visited this important madrasa, including the philosopher of history, Ibn Khaldun.

How Monument was dated:

The monument is dated by an inscription above the doorway that states it was founded by Nur al-Din Mahmud bin Zangi in 568 / 1172, a dating that is verified by historical texts and by the architectural continuity of the exterior masonry. The completion of the madrasa by al-Malik al-‘Adil and his son is proven by the location of the formers' mausoleum and also by historical texts.

Selected bibliography:

Allen, T., “Ayyubid Architecture”, Occidental (electronic publication 7th edition), 2003.
Al-Nu'aymi, A. Q. (d. 927 / 1520), Al-Daris fi Tarikh al-Madaris [The Study of the History of the Madrasas], Damascus, 1947.
Burns, R., Monuments of Syria: An Historical Guide, London-New York, 1999.
Sauvaget, J., Les Monument Ayyoubides de Damas – Livraison II, Paris, 1938.

Citation of this web page:

Abd al-Razzaq Moaz, Zena Takieddine "Madrasa al-‘Adiliyya" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2021. 2021.;ISL;sy;Mon01;39;en

Prepared by: Abd Al-Razzaq Moaz, Zena Takieddine
Copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: SY 10