Women were notable patrons of Islamic architecture

The Mosque of al-Qarawiyyin (Jami’ al-Qarawiyyin), near the Spice Market of Fez al-Bali in Morocco, is one of the oldest universities and the largest mosque in Africa. Founded as a private church in 857 by Fatima al-Fahri, the daughter of a wealthy immigrant, it became the congregational mosque in the tenth century.

Courtyard Jami' al-Qarawiyyin, Fez, Image: Daily Mail
Courtyard Jami’ al-Qarawiyyin, Fez, Image: Daily Mail

Surrounded by madrasas, the mosque was a major intellectual centre in the medieval Mediterranean region. Its prestigious academic reputation may have transcended religious divisions. Popular tradition suggests that Gerbert of Auvergne (930-1003), who would become Pope Sylvester II and who is credited with introducing Arabic numerals to Europe, was once a student at al-Qarawiyyin.

Al-Firdaws madrasa, a complex located south-west of the gate of Bab al-Maqam in Aleppo, Syria, is among the largest and well-known Ayyubid madrasas, and the ‘the finest example of austere stone architecture.’1 (The Ayyubids succeeded the Fatimids, and reigned much of the Middle East in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.)

Founded by Dhayfa Khatun, the wife of the ruler al-Zahir Ghazi and the queen of the region between 1236-1243, Dhayfa Khatun is one of the most prominent architectural patrons in Syrian history; she established large endowments for the maintenance and operation of her charitable foundations.

The Madrasa al-Firdaws in Aleppo, general view from courtyard. Image: MIT
The Madrasa al-Firdaws in Aleppo, general view from courtyard. Image: MIT Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture

The Madrasa of Gawhar Shad, commissioned by the Timurid Queen in Herat, Afghanistan, was completed in 1432 and is now a mausoleum where she and other princes were buried. Queen Gawhar Shad was the wife of the Timurid ruler Shah Rukh (r. 1405-1447), who had moved the Timurid capital from Samarkand to Herat in 1405. After the sultan’s death, the queen ruled over an empire that stretched from the Tigris River to the Chinese border. Only the mosque, the mausoleum of Gawhar Shad, five minarets, and the remains of the madrasa have survived.

Madrasa-i Gawhar Shad
Madrasa-i Gawhar Shad, Herat, Afghanistan. Image: Cameron Rashti/Archnet

Gawhar Shad also commissioned the congregational mosque in Mashhad, modern-day Iran, as part of her extensive renovation program for the shrine of Imam Riza, the eighth imam of the Twelver Shias. The mosque is known for its tile mosaic decoration, an art form that peaked during the Timurid period. (The Timurids ruled Persia and Transoxiana [modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and southwest Kazakhstan] from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century.)

Masjid-i Gawhar Shad, Mashhad, Iran
Masjid-i Gawhar Shad, Mashhad, Iran. Image: May Farhat/Archnet

Some of the other monuments include:
Khayr al-Manazil Masjid, Delhi, India, built in 1561 by Maham Anga (d. 1562), one of Akbar’s wet nurses. An influential woman in the court, folklore suggests that she ruled the Mughal empire during Akbar’s childhood. Details are Archnet.

Sabil Nafisa al-Bayda, Cairo, Egypt,  built in 1796 by Nafisa al-Bayda, wife of the Mamluk ruler Murad Bey. During Murad Bey’s resistance she acted as intermediary between him and Napoleon. She is the only female patron to have a monument survive on the main ceremonial way of al-Qahira. Details at Archnet

The Yeni Valide Mosque in Turkey. Began in 1597 by Safiye Sultan, the mother of  Ottoman Empepror Mehmed III (r. 1595-1603) and completed more than half a century later by Turhan Hatice Sultan, the mother of Mehmed IV (1648-1687). Details at Archnet.

1The Madrasa al-FirdawsMIT
Jami’ al-Qarawiyyin, Fes, Morocco, Archnet
Madrasa al-Firdaws, Aleppo, Syria, Archnet
Madrasa-i Gawhar Shad, Herat, Afghanistan, Archnet

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

Author: ismailimail

Civil society media.   Find Ismailimail blog on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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