Al-Mahmudiyya Mosque, the largest and most significant mosque in Jaffa, is a complex of buildings arranged around two large courtyards and a third, smaller, courtyard. The buildings, gates and courtyards were built at different stages. The main construction was completed at the beginning of the 19th century by the governor of Jaffa, Muhammad Abu-Nabbut [from Arabic: "the father" (owner) of the club].
Abu Nabbut started his military and political career as a Mamluk (slave) in the courtyard of al-Jazzar Pasha, the renowned governor of Acre. A few years after al-Jazzar's death in 1804 he was appointed by al-Jazzar's heir, Sulayman Pasha, as governor of the districts of Jaffa and Gaza. Abu-Nabbut, possessed with a similar character to al-Jazzar, became known for his ambitious construction and refurbishment projects in Jaffa and for his boundless cruelty as a ruler. Legend tells that his nickname came to him from his habit of roaming the streets of Jaffa with a club, beating anyone who dared disobey his orders.
The main courtyard, located in the western part of the mosque, with its arcades and large rectangular prayer hall covered by two big shallow domes, and with its slender minaret are all accredited to Abu-Nabbut. A sabil (fountain), embedded in the southern wall of the mosque, is attributed to Sulayman Pasha, governor of Acre at the time. Traces of earlier construction are hardly noticeable, research mentions, however, that Abu-Nabbut's mosque was built on the foundations of a smaller mosque that belonged to the Bibi family, another writer state that a mosque was built at this place in 1730 by Sheikh Muhammad al-Khalili.
The mosque used to occupy the northeast corner of Old Jaffa. A southern gate, located just under the minaret, and a western gate, are approximately facing the Old Saray (government palace). In the middle of the 19th century the walls of Jaffa were gradually dismantled thus allowing for another major addition to the mosque to be made. Around the turn of the 20th century, the center of government moved to the east of the mosque, just outside the ancient walls. In order to facilitate access to the mosque from the New Saray building, a new, exuberant gate was built in the east wall of the mosque, facing the clock-tower plaza. The gate, named "the gate of the governors", reminds the viewer of the design of Sabil Sulayman, built in Jerusalem 300 years earlier by Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent.
Today, the exterior walls of the mosque are largely concealed by shops. Though in some places the two shallow domes of the prayer hall and the multitude of ancillary dome are nonetheless visible from the surrounding streets. The tall and refined silhouette of the minaret is still prominent in what remains of the fabric of Old Jaffa and its surrounding.
Kark, Ruth. 1990. Jaffa: A city in Evolution. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Press, 20, 59-60.
Or, Even, Peder, Shimon and Shaham, Zvi. 1988. Midrakhon Yafo: Madrikh leSiyur Azmi. Tel Aviv: Israel Museum.
Petersen, Andrew. 2001. A Gazetteer of Buildings in Muslim Palestine: Part 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 164-165.