Essential Architecture-  Iraq

Madrasa al-Mustansiriya

architect

Client Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir

location

Baghdad

date

1236

style

Islamic

construction

 

type

Mosque madrasa Education
 
  Plan
 
  Exterior view
 
  Courtyard
 
  Portal
 
  Prayer hall
 
 
 
 
  Creswell
   
A late Abbasid tour-de-force, this monumental madrasa was built by the caliph al-Mustansir on a site overlooking the river Tigris. It accommodated teaching in the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence and in hadith (Prophet's traditions), and students were lodged in separate cells on two floors. The madrasa's choice location and pronounced monumentality reflect its high caliphal patronage.
 
Constructed between 1227 and 1234 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir (1226-1242), the Madrasa al-Mustansiriyya is regarded as one of the oldest centers of learning in history. Students journeyed from all over the Islamic world to come and study theology, literature, medicine, mathematics, jurisprudence, and the Quran, as it was the first effort at one site to unify the four orthodox Sunni law schools, Hanbali, Shafii, Maliki, and Hanifi; each school occupied a corner of the madrasa.

Situated on the Tigris River, this brick, two-story, rectangular madrasa measures 106 by 48 meters and is organized around a central courtyard. Three iwans open onto the court while the fourth side leads down a long corridor off of which are three open spaces that functioned as an oratory. Other hallways and rooms extend from the court through pointed-arched entrances creating a complex that served student needs, including a kitchen, prayer hall, living quarters, and baths. Both the iwans and the arched doorways were framed with plain brick vertical and horizontal strips. The madrasa could be entered through a triple-door opening on one of its long sides while directly across from it another triple-doorway led from the courtyard into the musalla, or prayer hall. These entrances exhibited arabesque-sculpted terracotta and geometric patterned masonry work, featuring vegetal themes that recall earlier Abbasid and even Umayyad motifs.

The brick façade of the Madrasa al-Mustansiriyya features rosette decorated square plugs designed in a geometric pattern. In addition, an inscribed band that speaks to an 1865 Ottoman restoration by Sultan 'Abd al-'Aziz stretches the length of the river façade, replacing the original.

After the fifteenth century, the building was neglected and was subsequently used as a khan, a hospital and eventually army barracks. By 1945, the Iraqi Directorate of Antiquities had initiated a campaign to restore this historic monument. Today, the immediate commercial district around the madrasa has been demolished to return the site to its original borders.

Sources:

Al-Janab, Tariq Jawad. 1982. Studies In Mediaeval Iraqi Architecture. Baghdad: Republic of Iraq, Ministry of Culture and Information State Organization of Antiquities and Heritage, 73-76.

JPC Inc. 1984. Rusafa: Study on Conservation and Redevelopment of Historical Centre of Baghdad City/Republic of Iraq, Amanat al Assima. Japan: JCP Inc., 51.

Khalil, Jabir and Strika, Vincenzo. 1987. The Islamic Architecture of Baghdad; the Results of a Joint Italian -Iraqi Survey. Napoli: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 65-70.

Michell, George. ed. 1978. Architecture of the Islamic World; Its History and Social Meaning. London: Thanes & Hudson, 247-48.

Ettinghausen, Richard and Grabar, Oleg. 1987. The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 295-6.

links

Special thanks to the Islamic architecture website http://archnet.org/
www.essential-architecture.com