Damascus, Syria


Cultural Heritage Site | Interactive Map

Bimaristan Nur al-Din


Damascus, Syria

Bimaristan Nur al-Din

The Bimaristan Nur al-Din, constructed in 1154 (549 AH) is the earliest surviving example of an Islamic hospital. It was built by Nur al-Din Mahmud ibn Zengi, ruler of Syria from 1146–1174 (540–569 AH) through a waqf, a charitable endowment meant to fund public and religious institutions. The word “bimaristan” is of Persian origin, meaning “place of the sick,” and the building functioned as both a hospital and medical school.

This was not the first hospital in Damascus, as one was established by Al-Walid I in 706 (88 AH); however, according to traveller Ibn Jubayr, the Bimaristan Nur al-Din was larger and better-built.1 An extension to the bimaristan was added in 1242 (639 AH) by a doctor, Badr al-Din, in order to accommodate more patients, and a subsequent restoration was completed in 1283 (682 AH). It continued to be used as a hospital until the early 20th century (early 14th century AH), when it was replaced by a modern facility.

The building was restored by the Directorate General of Museums and Antiquities in 1979 (1399 AH), and remains in good condition. It now functions as the Museum of Medicine and Science in the Arab World.

Ananias chapel


Damascus, Syria

Ananias Chapel

Ananias Chapel is a small underground chapel located in the former Christian quarter of Damascus, near two of the ancient gates of the old city, Bab Touma and Bab Sharqi. Damascus was an important site of early Christianity, and numerous local legends exist linking Biblical figures to the city. What began as a small community of believers expanded until, by the Council of Nicaea in 325 (308 BH), Damascus was able to send its bishop to attend the proceedings. One of the greatest ties connecting Damascus to Christianity undoubtedly exists at Ananias Chapel, the site traditionally associated with the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Paul the Apostle) to Christianity. It remains today as an important pilgrimage site for Christians.

Khan As‘ad Pasha


Damascus, Syria

Khan As‘ad Pasha

The Khan As‘ad Pasha (built 1751-1752/1164-1165 AH), which has been called “the great masterpiece of Ottoman Damascus,” is a striking example of late Ottoman architecture in Syria.1

Its patron, As‘ad Pasha al-‘Azm, was part of the powerful ‘Azm family who governed Damascus and the Syrian provinces multiple times throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries (12th to 13th centuries AH). As‘ad himself had the distinction of governing Damascus for fourteen consecutive years (1743–1757 AD/1156–1170 AH), the only Ottoman official to do so. A shrewd leader, he built his khan at a time of high economic activity in the city, likely seeking to benefit from this increased prosperity.

By the 1970s (1390s AH), the Khan As‘ad Pasha was being used as storage space for merchants in Al-Buzuriya Souq. The Department of Museums and Antiquities purchased the khan and began restoring it in 1980 (1400 AH) to reconstruct the missing domes and strengthen the piers supporting them, as well as restore interior finishes and decoration, such as the gypsum decoration in the dome interiors. Although there was an attempt to transform the khan into a hotel, today it functions as a centre for cultural activities.

Madrasa al-Jaqmaqiya


Damascus, Syria

Madrasa al-Jaqmaqiya

The Madrasa al-Jaqmaqiya was built for the Mamluk governor of Damascus, Jaqmaq al-Arghunshawi, between 1418–1420 (821–823 AH). Located just north of the Umayyad Mosque, it was built on the site of an earlier madrasa damaged during Timur’s invasion of Damascus in 1401 (803 AH).

Although a madrasa is usually defined as an Islamic religious school, historically a madrasa was a multi-function building which might also incorporate a mosque, or as in this case, a mausoleum for its patron, in addition to teaching space and lodgings for students. Damascus, which was second only to Cairo during the Mamluk sultanate and a historical centre of learning, had 128 madrasas in this period according to Abd al-Qadir al-Nu‘aymi.1 The Madrasa al-Jaqmaqiya, embellished with ablaq masonry and a band of monumental inscription, is a typical example of the Mamluk appreciation for the symbolic power of architecture, extending even to the exterior of buildings which were usually left plain in Islamic urban settings.

The Madrasa al-Jaqmaqiya has undergone several changes since its initial construction: three rooms were added to the upper level in the 19th century (13th to 14th century AH), and the building suffered bomb damage to its walls and roof during the Second World War. It was last restored in 1956 (1375 AH) by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria. Today, the Madrasa al-Jaqmaqiya houses the Museum of Arabic Calligraphy, the only one of its kind in Syria.

Al-‘Azm Palace


Damascus, Syria

Al-‘Azm Palace

Al-‘Azm Palace, built between 1749–1751 (1163–1165 AH) for governor of Damascus As‘ad Pasha al-‘Azm is one of the most important and beautiful examples of domestic architecture in Damascus.

As‘ad, unlike any other imperial official in the city, governed for fourteen consecutive years (1743–1757 AD/1156–1170 AH) and was not a foreign transplant but hailed from a Syrian family destined to have a long history in leadership. While the entire ‘Azm family made their mark on Damascus, architectural projects were a special focus of As‘ad’s leadership: he also built the Khan As‘ad Pasha (featured on this website), as well as numerous other construction and restoration projects in Damascus and along the Hajj pilgrimage route.

In 1983 (1403 AH), Al-‘Azm Palace was given an Agha Khan Award for Architecture in honour of its sensitive restoration and the continuing commitment to its maintenance. The palace now houses the Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions, and is a historic site open to visitors.

Hammam Nur al-Din


Damascus, Syria

Hammam Nur al-Din

This hammam, constructed between 1154–1174 (549–569 AH) by Nur al-Din Mahmud ibn Zengi, ruler of Syria from 1146–1174 (540–569 AH), is still a functioning bathhouse today. It was established to provide funds for the waqf, or charitable endowment, which supported the Nur al-Din Madrasa (built 1167/563 AH). The hammam was used regularly until the early 20th century (14th to 15th century AH), when it was converted to a warehouse for soap and spices.

In 1979 (1399 AH), a request was sent to the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums to rehabilitate the building to function as a hammam once again. Renovations lasted for approximately two years, and included restoring the dome of the mashlah. Today the Hammam Nur al-Din continues to reflect the historic importance of water in the Islamic world, both for cleanliness and as a symbol of prosperity and good living.

Tekkiye Süleymaniye


Damascus, Syria

Tekkiye Süleymaniye

The Tekkiye Süleymaniye is a mosque complex designed by the renowned Ottoman architect Sinan for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent in 1553-1554 (960-961 AH). Located outside the city of Damascus at the time of its construction, the Tekkiye Süleymaniye was built to provide services for caravans making the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca: here, in the countryside just west of Damascus, pilgrims could rest before continuing their long journey into the desert.

The Tekkiye comprises a mosque and a range of public facilities including a soup kitchen, stables, and a small number of travellers’ lodgings, likely intended for special guests making the Hajj. A madrasa and market were added to the complex in 1560 (967 AH) by Sultan Selim II (not available in this virtual tour). The Tekkiye is arranged around a courtyard and central ablution pool, and framed by the mosque to the south, rows of guest rooms to the east and west, and stables and soup kitchen to the north. The madrasa and market are located east of the main complex.

Through this decidedly imperial architecture, Süleyman—whose father Selim I had gained control of Syria in 1516 (922 AH)—could demonstrate personal piety and beneficence while symbolizing the new regime of Ottoman power in Syria. The Tekkiye Süleymaniye was restored by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in the 1960s (1380s AH).