Madrasa al-Tuwayshiyya
Tripoli, Lebanon
"The madrasa was built by Amir Sayf al Din al Tuwayshi.

History and Inscriptions:

The Tuwayshiyyah reveals no founding inscription or other information. The only inscriptions to be found are on the tomb, and they are Quranic. Badly damaged and out of order, they have been deciphered and published by Tadmuri.

Amir Sayf al Din al Tuwashi, whose name is known to us from the records of the mahkamah shariyyah, died in A.H. 875/A.D. 1471; otherwise very little is known about him, apart from the fact that the name in Arabic, tawashi, plural tawashiyah, means eunuch. Eunuchs worked in palaces and in harems, and according to the Mamluk historian al Maqnzi enjoyed power and influence in Mamluk times. But precisely who Sayf al-Din was, what he did, and when and why he came to Tripoli, we do not know.


The small funerary madrasa has a composed facade running the width of the building and facing the Jeweler's Suq. It is built of local sandstone with four courses of black stone for decoration. Its focal point is the centrally placed portal which rises higher than the rest of the wall. A simple rectangular door with a decorative oculus above it is surmounted by three courses of muqarnas with a shell motif on twisted colonnettes at its corners and topped by a festooned half-dome containing a radiating zigzag motif of carved stone.

The wall to the right of the portal is opened by an unadorned window, and to the left by two simple windows at the lower level and a central double window at the upper level, which is quite elaborately decorated, considering its small size, in a style unique in Tripoli. However, it seems to be in perfect harmony with the door. It has the same festooning as around the portal arch, and with its concave fluted shell and twisted columns looks like an elongated version of the corner shells above the door. The whole composition is framed by a band of a simple fish-scale motif over the gate and around the top and side walls; on the street line it runs at the height of the mastabah.

The half-dome of the Tuwayshiyyah gate is a known element in the Mamluk decorative vocabulary. Although this one is the only example to be found in Tripoli, the Mosque of Tankiz in Damascus built in 1317, and the Madrasa Tankiziyyah in Jerusalem built in 1336, both have the same radiating zigzag decoration on their gates, and the same half-dome of carved zigzag framed by a festooned arch and resting on three tiers of muqarnas. All three muqarnas have a row of small flat or concave segments at the top, a row of deeper units with stalactites in the middle, and four flat large scales and corner shells at the bottom. The details of proportions and organization of the Damascus, Jerusalem, and Tripoli gates are also identical.

Examples of zigzag half-domes abound in Cairo. They are similar to the three just discussed, but have a Cairene character all their own. The madrasah-mausoleum of Amir Sunqur Sa d~, for instance, built in 1315, has the same kind of portal but the zigzag effect is in flat polychrome marble instead of stone relief; it is framed by a simple arch instead of the polylobed festooned arch; and its three-tiered muqarnas ends in corner pendentives rather than the flat horizontal wall below.

Another example of flat polychrome zigzag in Cairo is in the halfdome over the entrance of Yulgay al-Yusufi (1373). It is framed by a trilobed arch on the level of the third floor; but too high to be readily visible, it forms only a part of the decoration rather than its central element.

Two other zigzag decorations from Cairo, both in flat polychrome marble, are closer in date to the Tuwayshiyyah but more remote in style and much less bold in effect. One is on top of the entrance bay of the Mosque of Sultan Mu'ayyad (1415-20) where the zigzag half-dome is simply one of the many decorative motifs over the entrance rather than its dominant feature;" the other is on the half-dome of the mihrab in the sanctuary of the madrasa-mosque of al-Ashraf Barsbay (1423-24), where it is lost in the complex decorative scheme.

The Tuwayshiyyah's radiating zigzag entrance was probably influenced by the nearby monuments of Tankiz built a century earlier rather than by contemporary monuments in Cairo. The motif seems to have been exclusively executed in cut stone in the Fertile Crescent, and more characteristically in flat polychrome marble in Cairo.

The madrasa is entered through a short corridor opening onto a courtyard, with the prayer hall to the left and the tomb chamber to the right. It is not quite clear whether the maze of construction behind is actually part of the madrasa or not.

Although the facade is clear and organized, the building behind it is not, even though the space and land were available to accommodate any arrangement. The placement of the open courtyard is awkward, and the area of the prayer room with its roofing is not neatly defined by walls but is somehow haphazard. The prayer hall situated to the left of the corridor is a simple and empty double room having only a plain mihrab with cushion voussoirs set between the two windows for decoration. The area is covered by two cross-vaults with the widening concave Tripoli lines meeting in a central concave rosette.

The funerary chamber, a square and high room covered by a ribbed dome and containing a marble sarcophagus, is entered separately from the courtyard. Its squareness and axial openings in the wall give it a cruciform plan.

The dome has a complex and very effective ribbed cupola on both its interior and exterior. An alternation of wide and narrow sharp-edged ribs gives the whole a star-shaped effect. The dome rests on an octagonal zone of transition with four open alternating with four blank spaces, the whole resting on four corner pendentives formed by arches on the four walls of the room.

The funerary madrasa of al-Tuwashi, small and simple as it is, is a typical Tripoli monument of its time, and exhibits such a variety of influences as to constitute a glossary of contemporary artistic vocabulary: a Damascus-Jerusalem-influenced gate; an Andalusian double window; a mihrab with Crusader-inspired voussoirs; a North African dome with its inside-outside ribbing; and a local, Tripoli ribbed vault with concave rosette."

(Source: Salam-Liebich, Hayat, 1983. The Architecture of the Mamluk City of Tripoli. Cambridge: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.)
Suq al-Sayyagin, Tripoli, Lebanon
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Associated Names
1471/875 AH
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Variant Names
Madrasa al-Tuwayshiyya
Tuwayshiyya Madrasa
al-Madrasa al-Tuwayshiyya
al-Madrasah al-Tuwayshiyah
al-Madrasah al-Tuwayshiya
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