Jami' Arghun Shah
Tripoli, Lebanon
The mosque was built by Amir Arghun Shah, the governor of Tripoli.

"History and Inscriptions:
Known locally as the Jami al Ghanshah, undoubtedly the mosque is named for Amir Arghun Shah, governor of Tripoli from 1394 to 1398. It does not carry a founding inscription, but does have, carved on the lintel above the door, a decree of A.H. 880/A.D. 1475 concerning the waqf of agricultural land. It consists of four lines of naskh that can be summarized as follows:
'In A.H. 880 (A.D. 1475) a royal decree was issued to protect and enforce the waqf of
Arghun Shah; it stipulated that the lands he had left were to be leased to the public, and
to the needy rather than to the rich, and that this was to be carved on the door of the
madrasa (also referred to as a zawiya in the text).'

This means that the monument was already standing by 1475 and that Arghun Shah was its founder and patron. We know from the history of Ibn al Furat that Arghun Shah al Ibrahimi became governor of Tripoli in A.H. 798 (A.D. 1394) and remained in office until A.H. 800 (A.D. 1397), when he was transferred to Aleppo. Therefore this building must have been constructed between 1394 and 1398, the four years of his rule.

What the original function of this structure might have been is somewhat obscure. It is regarded today both officially and popularly as a mosque, and was referred to as the Jami of al Ghanshah as early as 1700 by al Nabuls. The inscription calls the building both a zawiya and a madrasa, however, so it is possible that the structure was first erected as a place of instruction and only later transformed into a mosque. This could explain the silence of the sources on the subject of Arghun Shah's having erected a mosque, for he may in fact have only endowed a zawiyah. Sometime after 1475, Arghun Shah's pious monument was certainly being used as a jami, however, and it may have been then that the minaret was added. Judging from its style, the minaret is certainly later than 1394-98 and most probably later than 1475.

From the outside, the street facade, the main portal, and the minaret are all clearly visible; they are simple but at the same time rather special. The two-story facade is built of cut stone and opens to the outside by three sets of double windows below and three simple windows above: both levels are on the same axis. The lower windows are surrounded by alternating black and white stones, and each set of two windows is topped by a course of joggled black and white stones of various sizes.

Next to this wall is the main entrance, which consists of a deep archway almost as high as the building and about 1.5 meters deep, with two vaulted units and a central circle at its upper level. The door proper is a simple rectangular opening, above which is the four-line inscription running the width of the wall, topped by a course of joggled ablaq, surmounted by an empty plaque with a cut border. The portal has unfortunately been painted over in white, hiding whatever merit it may have had and emphasizing its separateness from the wall next to it. It is probably an addition to the earlier building, since it is made of a different stone, is not quite of the same height, and leads into a corridor instead of into the mosque proper on its left. It was probably built in 1475, when the waqf decree was promulgated.

The minaret is the building's most remarkable element. It stands over the original building, next to the entrance. It has a cylindrical shaft of the Ottoman type with two round moldings separating it from the base and the top. The base is cubical with corner triangular buttresses. The top consists of a flat muqarnas level formed by six rows of a fish-scale motif, topped by a ten-sided balcony decorated with plaques of carved stone of varying design. The whole is covered by an umbrella-like wooden structure carrying a metal crescent.

The exterior of the Arghun Shah mosque well reflects its three phases of development: the wall belonging to the original zawiyahmadrasah of 1394-98, the gate to the time of the decree of 1475, and the minaret to the Ottoman period when most likely the madrasah became a jami.

The interior is fairly simple and provides nothing to contradict the sequence of construction posited. The gate leads through a vaulted corridor to the ablution basin; the mosque itself is entered by a door on the left of this corridor. The squarish prayer hall is a vaulted area with piers of various sizes for support. The qiblah wall has a mihrab at an angle to the wall. The addition of a mihrab, a corridor leading to its entrance, and a minaret has thus clearly transformed a private zawiyah into a public jami (Salam 1983: 78-82).

(Source: Salam-Liebich, Hayat, 1983. The Architecture of the Mamluk City of Tripoli. Cambridge: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.)
Tripoli, Lebanon
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Associated Names
1394-98/796-800 AH
Style Periods
Variant Names
Arghun Shah Mosque
Jami' al-Ghanshah
Building Usages