May/June 2000

T r i p o l i



From Egypt to the Levant, exquisite stonework flourished under the Mamluk sultans of the 13th and 14th centuries. In Tripoli, Lebanon, however, the Mamluks went one step farther: They laid out a whole new city. Much of it survives today.

Separated from the rest of Lebanon's second-largest metropolis by the Qadisha River, the madrasa, or Qur'anic school, of al-Burtasi was in 1310 the first building in Tarabulus al-Mustajadda ("Tripoli the Renewed") to express a Mamluk decorative vocabulary. The 30 major monuments of Mamluk Tripoli, mostly built within a four-decade period, offer what historian Khaled Ziadeh calls "a uniquely narrow slice of architectural history."


The righteous will be amid gardens and fountains of clear-flowing water.

Their greeting will be: "Enter ye here in peace and security."

And we shall remove from their hearts any lurking sense of injury:

They will be brothers joyfully facing each other on thrones of dignity.

Inscription above the entrance of the Qaratay Madrasa,

from the Qur'an, Sura 15 (Al-Hijr, "The Rocky Tract"), verses 45-47.


Background photo: Under Mamluk patronage, stonecutters created so-called joggled voussoirs - interlocking stones arranged within arches - with painstaking grace. The white stone is marble; the black is basalt.


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