Madrasa Nuriya al-Kubra

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Madrasa Nuriya al-Khubra (Madressa of Nuruddin Zangi), also known as the Nur al-Din Madrasa, the Madrasa al-Nuriyya al-Kubra (المدرسة النورية الكبري), is a complex of institutions composed of a madrasa, a mosque and the founder's mausoleum.


The funerary madrasa of Nur al-Din is located along the Khayattin Souk (سوق الخياطين), inside the walled city of Damascus. It was built in 1167 by Zangid ruler Nur al-Din (1147-1174) as the first royal madrasa complex in Damascus. The complex is composed of a madrasa, a mosque and the founder's mausoleum. There is a dedicatory inscription (inspect) above the door that cites the name of the founder, the function of the building and its erection date.

The well-known Andalusian geographer and traveler Ibn Jubayr once described it as: "It is one of the most beautiful schools in the world, It is an elegant huge building with water works inside leading into a narrow stream flowing into a beautiful well in the midst of the inner yard in an amazing way to the beholder".

circa 1167 CE

It is during the reign of Nureddin where the oriental Seljuk style thrives in Sham (Syria) and was combined with the local Arabian traditional arts and crafts to proceed with the revival phase of Islamic art in a way never been done before since the era of Umayyad’s.

The school was founded on a rectangle floor, and the roof is made of wood with an octagon-shaped base short white minaret. The yard is square-shaped space with a beautiful fountain in the middle, the ground flooring is in Basalt stone. Inside the school there is the Tomb of Nureddin laid under a very unique and marvelous dome that has muqarnas insets, the dome consists of multiple layers hanging over on a squared base with three layers of muqarnas revolving the circular body of the dome with small openings to allow the air and light in.

Current Architecture

circa 1167 CE

The ensemble is entered from the east through a portal recess covered with a double cross-vault. A low arch was built across the recess in the fourteenth century to support the double arch of the original vault. The portal opens up to a cross-vaulted vestibule leading to the eastern iwan giving onto the madrasa courtyard. In the center is a rectangular basin alimented by a water channel connected to a fountain situated on the west iwan.

circa 1167 CE

To the south of the entry vestibule is a horse shoe arched door topped by a sixteen sided rosette window leading to the tomb chamber and to the north, a staircase leads to the student rooms located on the second floor. The madrasa rooms are organized around a courtyard measuring 16.6 by 20.6 meters, paved with black and white marble tiles. The school is used as a mosque nowadays. And it has been subjected to a process of repairing and restoring in the period between 2011 and 2014 to bring back it former glory.

Mausoleum of Nureddin Zangid

circa 1167 CE

The walls of the tomb rise taller than the rest of the madrasa complex, lifting the muqarnas dome with its corbels and bulbous crown into the city's skyline. Adjoining the complex's main entrance is a square room covered with another (smaller) muqarnas dome, similar to the dome of Nur al-Din's mausoleum. Entered separately, this mausoleum is remnant of Madrasa Nagibiyya and houses the tomb of Amir Djamal al-Din Aqqush an-Nagibi (d. 1269), who governed Damascus from 1261 to 1271 under Sultan Baybars I.

circa 1167 CE

The mausoleum chamber adjoining the entry vestibule has a square plan measuring 6.6 meters on the side. It is centered on the founder's tomb located below a highly detailed muqarnas dome. On the vertical surface of cenotaph is an inscriptive lines carved repeatedly on its four sides, dedicated to the memory of the founder. The walls are decorated with niches below a continuous band of calligraphy stating the Kursi surat from the Quran. The south wall has a mihrab niche flaked by two small columns.

circa 1167 CE

Dome Details
The space is illuminated with three arched clerestory windows placed above the inscriptive band on each wall; although some of the windows have been closed in. The base of the dome also has four arched windows facing the cardinal points and its upper muqarnas corbels are punctured with smaller openings.

See Also


Let's bring some history to your inbox

Signup for our monthly newsletter / online magazine.
No spam, we promise.

Privacy Policy