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Nur al-Din Bimaristan

Nur al-Din Bimaristan (البيمارستان النوري‎) is a large medieval bimaristan ("hospital") in Damascus, Syria. Bimaristan is a word of Persian origin which means the site of the sick. It is located in the al-Hariqa quarter in the old walled city, to the southwest of the Umayyad Mosque. Nur ad-Din Zangi also built a Madrasah (school), Madrasa al-Nuriyya al-Kubra, along the Khayattin Souk (tailors' market), inside the walled city of Damascus.


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circa 1154 CE

Constructed in two phases, the main bulding was erected by Nur al-Din Zengi in 1154 CE (548 Hj.) and later on an extension was added, some 90 years later, by a physician, Badr al-Din in 1242 CE. Essentially, it is a courtyard building with an elaborate entrance block. The entrance (arched portal in the background) is located on the western side of the building, where an ornate entrance portal opens onto the street (peek outside). The interior of the arched vault of entrance portal is inscribed with first three verses of Surah Fatah (Chapter of Victory) from Quran (inspect).

circa 1154 CE

On the north and south sides, apse-like spaces flank the courtyard, the one on the south leading onto a set of rooms. On the east side, a second gateway leads onto the building's central courtyard via an iwan. This entrance room is ornamented with an inscription band that indicates the great deeds of the Mamluk era across the four walls. Surmounting it is an elaborate, high muqarnas vault (inspect) with apertures admitting light into the space. The shell of this vault is visible on the exterior of the building.

circa 1154 CE

A rectangular pool measuring 7m x 8.5m occupies the center of the courtyard. The courtyard is framed on all sides with an iwan flanked by two chambers. These chambers are capped with intersecting vaults. The building is of the Iraqi type, in plan also, with a symmetrical disposition of four iwans around a central courtyard. But other than that, the building is fully in the Damascene construction tradition, and in fact stones from the outer enclosure of the antique temple were reused in it.

circa 1154 CE

Passing through the gateway on the east side of the entrance chamber leads through an iwan opening onto the building's central interior courtyard, measuring 20m x 15m. The largest iwan is the eastern one, opposite the entrance block (8m x 7.5m), it was used for the doctors' meetings and lectures. The iwan has two storage spaces encased within the walls that were discovered during a later renovation. They were built-in bookcases that contained many medical books that Nur al-Din had donated to the bimaristan.

circa 1154 CE

The main entrance portal (peek inside) is made of two large wooden doors wrapped in a layer of copper fitted to the wood with brass nails arranged in a geometric pattern. Surmounting the doorway is an antique pediment reused from a local pre-Islamic building. Surmounting this is a large muqarnas hood set within a rectangular frame outlined with a geometric pattern, only part of which still exists. The gate leads into a square chamber (measuring 5 sq meters).

circa 1154 CE

More recently a small museum has been established inside the Nur al-Din Bimaristan. It was restored in 1975 and now houses the Museum of Medicine and Science in the Arab World. The hospital of Nur al-Din Zangi would have about 22-30 doctors at any given time, during its operational age, who would issue prescriptions, perform surgeries, conduct medical examinations etc. Around the same time as more and more medical knowledge became available to the physicians, largely because of the Translation Movement, the hospitals in Islamic world started to offer a new kind of facility, the pharmacy.

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