Madrasa al-Shamiyya al-Kubra is located in the Souk Sarojiya district to the north of the walled city of Damascus. It was built around 1190 by Sitt al-Sham, a sister of Salah al-din (1137-1193), who founded the Ayyubid dynasty in Damascus after taking the city over from the Zangids in 1177. The building includes a madrasa, a prayer hall and a burial chamber. Large sections of the madrasa were rebuilt during Ottoman rule with the exception of the mihrab, the entrance portal, and the courtyard fountain.
The courtyard is accessed with five steps going down from street level. It is paved with black and white tiles arranged to form geometric patterns, and has a rectangular fountain at its center, with carved stone panels. Two rooms flank the courtyard to its east, faced by three rooms to the west. To the south, is a ten-bay portico composed of limestone arches topped by seventeen tall, rectangular openings. It leads into the prayer hall and the tomb chamber through two separate doors.
Entered through the eastern door along the portico, the prayer hall is a rectangular space covered with pointed cross vaults resting on piers. The interior is largely plastered. A carved plaster band of floral arabesques adorns the norhtern wall, while the east and west walls bear two ornamental plaster medallions. The mihrab is also covered with plaster, carved intricately with geometric and floral motifs.
The tomb chamber to the west of the prayer hall is topped by a ribbed dome. The inner surface of the dome is covered with juss, or gypsum, and decorated with bands of kufic calligraphy. Buried in the tomb are donor Sitt al-Sham, her husband and cousin Nassir al-din Muhammad bin Shirkuh and their son Husam al-din Omar bin Lagin. The sarcophagus of Ayyubid ruler of Yemen Turan Shah I (1174-1181), is placed within the same tomb, to the south.
A single stone minaret rises at the northwest corner of the mosque. Its rectangular shaft turns into a narrow octagonal tower above the balcony and is topped by a spear.
Rihawi, Abdul Qader. Arabic Islamic Architecture: Its Characteristics and Traces in Syria, 125. Damascus: Publications of the Ministry of Culture and National Leadership, 1979.
Sauvaget, Jean. les Monuments Historiques de Damas, 56-57. Beirut: Imprimerie Catholique, 1938.
Talas, Muhammad Asa'ad. Thimar al-Maqasid fi Dhikr al-Masajid, 223-224. Damascus: Institut Français de Damas, 1975.