Jami' al-Tahhan
Tripoli, Lebanon
History and Inscriptions

This mosque is popularly known in Tripoli as the Jami' Al-Tahhan, or "Miller's Mosque." The lack of both founding inscription and literary evidence makes the name and the date of construction for this monument a subject of controversy. A version of the name, Al-Tahhal, ending with an l rather than an n, can be found in Al-Nabulsi's Rihlah; Salem and the Unesco report use yet another variant, al-Tahham, with an m, and Tadmuri uses the m as well, though without citing any evidence in its favor. Al-Tahham means "the courageous one," "the one who attacks in battles," and Tadmuri finds this to be a more plausible role for the founder of the mosque than being a miller. So long as there is no evidence to the contrary, however, the popularly accepted local name at least has the argument of tradition on its side, and in fact there is no reason why a miller should not have endowed a mosque. Why accept a perfumer and not a miller? The history of Islamic architecture is replete with examples of middle-class merchants and people of all professions having endowed mosques which are subsequently named after them.

The date and benefactor's name are also sources for speculation. Salem proposes a date of A.H. 967 (A.D. 1564) and the name of Mahmud Lutfi Al-Zaim but he confuses this mosque with another in Tripoli, the Al-Muallaq. Bruce Conde argues for Amir Yunis Al-Ma'ni, younger brother of Fakhr Al-Din Al-Ma'ni II, A.H. 1050 (A.D. 1641) and refers to the minaret as "the prince's minaret." Kamel Al-Baba favors a Mamluk Amir by the name of Yunis Bahadar. But none of these authors provide any evidence to support their claims. Until further evidence turns up, we can only say that the mosque should most likely be called Tahhan with an
n and that it was built by an unknown benefactor at an unknown date, but possibly toward the end of Mamluk rule in the city.

Description

The Jami Al-Tahhan is on the second story, built over a series of shops, and is entered through a corner alley. Although mosques built over commercial establishments are not very common, neither are they totally unknown (the most famous example is the Mosque of Salih Tala [A.D. 1160] in Cairo). They were usually built by donors who could not afford a free-standing monument: combining commercial income producing shops below with a religious building above to demonstrate their piety was a practical solution.

In today's Tripoli, the Miller's Mosque is hardly noticeable even when one walks right in front of it. The minaret is not very high and is by now dwarfed by surrounding structures, and the street side of the mosque is obstructed by vendors' awnings and other shade providing devices. But the mosque can be differentiated from the rest of the building of which it forms a part. The mosque level is built of cut stone arranged in alternate layers of black and white, with the top layer consisting of alternating black and white stones framed by a row of fish-scale motif with decorated hoods. The street wall is opened by an organized system of four sets of rectangular double windows (the last two have recently been plastered over). At right angles to the street facade is the facade proper of the mosque, also built in alternate layers of black and white stone. A flight of stairs leads to a large and deeply arched entrance topped by the minaret.

The minaret is certainly the focal point of the Jami Al-Tahhan. Its main parts are, first, a square shaft with engaged plaited colonnettes rising above the entrance at its corners; then, an octagonal shaft resting on four triangular buttresses and containing four opened, arched windows alternating with four blind niches with colonnettes; and finally an octagonal gallery-like structure resting on a complex stalactite muqarnas and covered by a peculiar octagonal-pyramidical roofing, which crowns the whole.

Considering the size of the minaret and the otherwise simple structure which it adorns, the amount and quality of its decoration is striking and clearly the result of a consciously planned effort to impress. Its square and octagonal shaft, buttresses, muqarnas, beautifully carved engaged plaited colonnettes, blind niches, and carved stone plaques wherever space permits provide a veritable catalog of the decorative themes of its time. This richness of the decorative vocabulary strengthens the theory of its later Mamluk dating.

The interior is a simple affair. A square room of about 15 by 15 meters, it is divided into nine vaulted areas by two pairs of reused columns with capitals. In the middle of the qiblah wall stands a minbar; in a corner and at an angle to the wall is the mihrab. Evidently the building followed the street line, and the mihrab had to be adjusted to orient it in the correct direction for prayer. Aside from the reused columns, the mihrab is the only decorated element in the interior. A band of knotted motif frames the mihrab and emphasizes the usual mihrab features. Two reused colonnettes with capitals are set on either side of the niche; the whole mihrab corner is painted in a marbled effect with blue trimmings.

The roof of the mosque must have been used for outdoor prayer in summer, for it, too, has a corner mihrab with reused capitals.

The Jami al-Tahhan provides a good example of a mosque built under bourgeois patronage. Because it was built on the first floor over shops in a crowded city, it could not be oriented correctly and this resulted in a corner mihrab that is somewhat askew. The minaret is the only element visible from the outside, and it bears almost all the decoration to be found in this simple structure. Its repertory of decorative elements makes it the only noticeable part of this otherwise inconspicuous building (Salam 1983: 88-93).

(Source: Salam-Liebich, Hayat, 1983. The Architecture of the Mamluk City of Tripoli. Cambridge: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.)
Location
Suq al-'Atur, Tripoli, Lebanon
Documents
Events
Style Periods
1299-1922
Variant Names
Jami' al-Tahhan
Tahhan Mosque
Variant
Miller's Mosque
Variant
Jami' al-Tahham
Variant
Building Usages
mosque
religious