Unlike most Mamluk monuments the Nuriyyah has no inscriptions, and its modest size allowed it to escape the attention and description of travelers. This lack of founding inscription and information in the sources left the identity of its founder and its date of construction open to speculation. It was presumably sponsored, along with the Hammam al-Nuri across the street, by a certain Nur al-Din, after whom the whole area around the madrasah, the Suwayqat al-Nuri (Small Suq of Nuri), is named, and for no apparent reason the date of 1333 has been attached to it by both the Unesco mission (though with some reservations) and Conde and Salem (with no reservations at all). Tadmuri, on the other hand, with his customary skepticism, refutes this date for lack of evidence, and rightly notes that Salem's own list of the rulers of Tripoli does not include a single Nur al-Din. At least for the moment it is simply not possible to date the construction of this madrasah nor to identify its patron.
With the cutting of a large street in front of the Great Mosque, the Nuriyyah (like the Nasiriyyah) became a corner building. Its facade and dome can be seen from the outside. The facade, on the main street facing the Hammam al-Nuri, is built of local sandstone and is opened by three windows and a portal.
The identical windows are set equidistantly from each other four stone courses above the street level. Heavily barred, they are simply decorated by alternating black and white stones on the sides and a more elaborate course of ablaq above a plain lintel. At a higher level three arched windows form a block, but they are of recent origin.
The portal is undoubtedly the most important element of the facade. A rectangular unit of 7 by 3.5 meters, it reaches the full height of the building. It has been placed to one side rather than in the middle of the facade, and has mastabahs on either side of a common type; its recessed wall contains the simple wooden door with a flat lintel which leads inside. Above the door is an oculus with joggled polychrome voussoirs; the wall on which the oculus is set, the door jambs, and the arch are all decorated in alternate courses of black and white stone.
The whole portal down to the level of the mastabahs and side windows is framed by a zigzag in low relief which looks very much like a flattened-out dogtooth motif. A more elaborate facade portal, but with the same kind of oculus on a striped background, is to be seen in the Madrasah of Amir Yi-Malak al-Gukandar in Cairo, built in 1319.
The interior of the Madrasah Nuriyyah includes a corridor, a large hall, and a tomb chamber. The door opens onto a corridor which runs the length of the main hall. It is through this corridor that the madrasah, set to the right of the corridor, is reached.
The hall, or central part of the monument, appears to be one unit in its space, but it is in fact two areas: a northern lower one and a southern elevated one, each with its own roofing. The lower area is used for ablutions. It has a marble floor with a simple geometric pattern of white octagons framed in red or black and is covered by cross-vaulting with concave widening lines meeting in an octagonal opening. The higher, southern area is for prayer; it contains the heavily decorated mihrab and is covered by a simple cross-vault. The mihrab is the main element of decoration in this otherwise simple area. It is set on the qiblah wall, in the center of the room and between two of the deep windows opening onto the outside. It is a niche in the wall with a half-dome resting on two reused marble colonnettes. The whole unit of the mihrab (concave lower area, half-dome, arch, and panel behind) is totally covered by various patterns in marble. The lower part consists of a vertical alternation of marble panels, while the half-dome is covered by a zigzag pattern of polychrome marble like bolts of lightning. The arch displays a joggled arrangement of marble slabs; the panel behind it is totally covered by a pattern of polychrome star-shaped marquetry.
Mihrabs with joggled arches and marble paneling were very popular in Cairo during the first half of the fourteenth century, with at least five built between 1303 and 1319. The zigzag design on the halfdomes of mihrabs seems to have become popular later in the century, and is found, for example, in the Mosque of al-Bakri built before 1374, and the Madrasah of Mahmud al-Kurdi, built in 1395, both in Cairo.
Off both the ablution and the prayer areas is a small room. On the northern ablution area, an arched door leads to a simple and exceedingly small rectangular room with a simple vaulting. On the southern prayer area, a small rectangular door leads to a square funerary chamber opened by two windows: one on its southern side facing the street, and one on its eastern side facing the Suq al-Saghah. Its northern and southern walls are decorated by two blind arches in relief. The dome is as simple inside as out. A cupola rests on an octagonal zone of open alternating with closed arches resting on four squinches that are similar to the squinches of the Hammam al-Nuri but smaller. This room has neither tomb nor inscription." (Salam 1983: 119-124)
(Source: Salam-Liebich, Hayat, 1983. The Architecture of the Mamluk City of Tripoli. Cambridge: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.)