Madrasah-i Zuzan
Zuzan, Iran
Now isolated, this madrasa was once surrounded by the dense urban fabric of Zuzan, one of the major medieval cities in northeastern Iran. Although only parts of the inscription containing the date of the monument remain, this monument can be dated to 1219. The patron for this building is identified as Malik of Zuzan, Qiwam al-Din, Mu'ayyid al-Mulk Abu Bakr ibn 'Ali al-Zuzani. This ruler, who served as a governor under Khwarazmshah 'Ala' al-Din Muhammad ibn Tekish, (ruling 1200-20), commissioned this madrasa in the last years of his life. The inscription on the qibla wall has helped scholar Sheila Blair to identify this madrasa as one specifically devoted to the teachings of Abu Hanifa (d. 767), the famous Muslim jurist. This monument is also one of the first examples of the use of two-color faience.

Only fragments of the north and south iwans remain from this madrasa. Andre Godard, the first scholar to describe the building, proposed that the plan of the building followed the customary four-iwan plan type of the Khurasan region.

The south iwan is decorated with two vertical bands of interlaced brick patterns framing a Koranic inscription. The inscription is in a stylized Kufic with incised edges and floral motifs at the ends of its stems. Blue glaze is used to highlight some areas within the inscription. The content can be recognized as the opening parts of the sura 23.

The mihrab on the south wall consists of a series of recessed brick panels framing a pointed arch niche. Adjacent to it on the east side is a large pointed arch opening which may have been the entry to a palace built by the same patron adjacent to the madrasa. A wide band of Kufic inscriptions and geometric patterns decorate the remaining upper part of the wall. In the geometric panels below the inscription, white and dark blue geometric roundels are framed by alternating white and light blue glazed bricks. The name of Muhammad and Allah are used to inscribe the central roundel.

Also employing light-blue glaze in its decoration, the inscription on the qibla has a highly stylized format with stems of the letters woven into a network of hexagrams, and an upper part in which segmented arches and keyhole motifs alternate. The content of the inscription, which can be quoted as, "for the followers of the great imam, light of nations, Abu Hanifa Nu'man ibn al-th[abital]-kufi, may God be pleased with him," can be used to connect this madrasa to the Hana'fite school of law.


Blair, Sheila. 1985."The Madrasa at Zuzan Islamic Architecture in Eastern Iran on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion."In Muqarnas 3, 75-91.

Wilber, Donald Newton. 1969. The Architecture of Islamic Iran: The Il Khanid Period. New York: Greenwood Press, 104.
Zuzan, Iran
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1219/615-16 AH
Style Periods
Variant Names
Madrasah-i Zuzan
Zuzan Madrasa
Madrasa-i Zuzan
Madrasa of Zunzan
Madrasah Zunzan
Building Usages