The Seljuk Madrassa


by Rabah Saoud

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Seljuk's made developments in the form, function and character of the mosque and expanded the use of Madrassa which, according to Van Berchem, first appeared in Kurassan early 10th century as an adaptation of the teacher's house to receive students....


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Muslim Architecture under Seljuk Patronage (1038-1327) by Rabah Saoud

Seljuk’s made developments in the form, function and character of the mosque and expanded the use of Madrassa which, according to Van Berchem, first appeared in Kurassan early 10th century as an adaptation of the teacher’s house to receive students. In the middle of` 11th century, the Madrassa was adopted by the Seljuk Emir Nizam Al-Mulk to become a public domain under his control, an inspiration from the Ghasnavids rulers of Persia who used it for teaching theology. The oldest Madrassa was founded by Nizam Al-Mulk in Baghdad in 1067 (but without a trace).

Evidence from the Madrassas that succeeded, (built between 1080 and 1092) at Kharghird in Khurasan, shows the use of four Iwan plan (Scerrato, (1980, p.72). However, Hattstein & Delius (2000) referred to another Madrassa known as the Khoja Mashad Madrassa (south of Tajikstan) as the oldest discovered Madrassa dating back to between 9th and 11th centuries. This displayed most of the features found in the Madrassas that followed at a later stage. This included the courtyard with four Iwans, and living chambers and study halls. However, the main portal was connected directly to the courtyard rather than through a vestibule as found in later Madrassas (Hattstein & Delius (2000 p.363). The southern side of this courtyard consisted of two large domed halls of similar size built of brick. The eastern hall was a mausoleum built in the 9th century was incorporated in the Madrassa while the second, more recent, was a mosque built in the 11th century.

The best surviving examples of Madrassas are those found in Anatolia, with their Iranian character including the use of the Iwan and the double minaret framing the portal. As in mosques, Anatolia converted the courtyard into a central domed area connecting to a number of chambers (rooms) which provided classes for students. These arrangements can be seen in the famous Karatay Madrassa in Konya founded (1251-1252) by Jelaleddin Karatay, a vizier of Sultan Izzeddin Keykavus. Here the courtyard was covered with huge dome perforated for the purpose of light, transforming it into a central area equipped with a pool for ablution. The Iwan is located on the west while the portal, which falls out of axis with the Iwan, is enframed by the Pishtaq and decorated with Syrian inspired knot design, lattice work, and polychromy as well as with the classic Seljuk Muqarnas. The dome was treated with particular care supported at its base by huge fan like connecting triangular structures (a total of 5 in each corner), each one evoking the name of Prophets, Muhammed, Issa (Jesus), and Mussa (Moses) giving it the symbolic appearance of the universal tent extending to the four corners of the universe and supported on these 5 pillars.

In decorative terms, the dome was covered with blue and black glazed tiles in the supporting pendentives (fans), the base of the dome is covered with a circular band of calligraphy, and its main body was covered with rosettes of blue centre and black outer looking like bursting stars. These meanings were also expressed in the decoration of other parts and walls of the building reflecting the dominant Sufi traditions dominating this particular period. This dome set precedent for Anatolian architects and artists quickly spreading in this region.

It was imitated in the Ince Minare Madrassa (Konya 1265), which does not substantially differ from Karatay but more famous for its portal which represents one of the most opulent works of Seljuk architectural decoration (Scerrato, 1980) with its Thuluth Naskhi type of calligraphy presented like a tapestry motif incorporating some vegetal (leaf and fruit) motifs. The whole composition created a baroque effect (figure 10), a style which later appeared in Europe in the 16th century.