The Shrine of Umar Suhrawardi is a mausoleum and mosque complex located in Baghdad, on the east bank of the Tigris in the Shaykh Umar neighborhood in the large cemetery known as al-Wardiyya. The shrine (and the surrounding neighborhood) is named for Shihab al-Din Abu Hafs 'Umar al-Shurawardi (d. 1234/1 Muharram 632 AH), a well-respected legal scholar of the Shafi'i school. Scholars believe that the Abbasid caliph al-Nasir li-Din Allah (r. 1180-1225/575-625 AH) erected the monument before the shaykh's death, at some point in the first decades of the 13th/7th century AH. According to inscriptions in situ, the complex was renovated as early as 735 AH and at other points thereafter. The mosque is a later addition, dating originally to the centuries after Suhrawardi's death but, as it stands today, is mostly an Ottoman-period building. Numerous restoration campaigns in the twentieth century have further altered the building's form and ornament.
As it stands today, the complex consists of a rectangular courtyard adjoining a mosque and the tomb chamber, situated behind the qibla wall of the mosque in the southern corner of the complex. The tomb chamber is surmounted by a thin, towering muqarnas vault that forms the focal point of the complex from afar.
The entrance to the courtyard is through a grand portal on the northwest side of the complex that rises above the adjoining courtyard walls. Today it faces onto a street. The portal contains a shallow iwan in its center, rising to the height of two stories and vaulted with a pointed arch and muqarnas in baked brick. Flanking the central iwan are two one-story pointed niches surmounted by another set of niches filled with geometric ornament. Framing the whole are two engaged columns made of brick. Within the central iwan is a door that framed by a rectangular field decorated with a tile revetment and surmounted by a two-line tile inscription dated 1354 AH (1934) mentioning King Ghazi ibn Faysal. Today, the lunette above the door contains a recent inscription mentioning the ministry of charitable endowments (Wizarat al-Awqaf).
Passing through the portal, one enters the courtyard, measuring 33 x 21 m square. A simple brick enclosure wall borders the courtyard on its northwestern and southwestern sides. A modern row of rooms and balcony forms the northeastern facade, having replaced a two-story tarima (a sort of riwaq) that had been constructed in 1853/1272 AH. The southeastern side of the courtyard is the facade of the mosque. A minaret executed in a historic regional style with a polygonal base, cylindrical shaft with square kufic decoration in glazed brick, and a muqarnas cornice and balcony, was constructed in the eastern corner of the courtyard in 1368 AH (1948).
The brick facade of the mosque is ornate, consisting of a row of tall blind pointed arches, some pierced by windows. The spandrels above these blind arches are decorated with turquoise-green glazed brickwork that forms geometric patterns. On the north end of this facade is a doorway onto the mosque. On the southern end, is another doorway, through an arched iwan within a frame filled with geometric decoration, which leads onto a corridor leading to the tomb chamber behind the mosque's qibla wall. This portal may dates to 1334-1335/735 AH when the corridor adjoining the tomb chamber was constructed. An inscription with lines of verse praising the Shaykh surmount the door, and an inscription by Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid mentioning a renovation to the portal in 1903/1321 AH was installed above this.1
The prayer hall of the mosque is a 20.5 x 15 m rectangular chamber divided into three aisles perpendicular to the qibla wall, divided into four bays each by thick pillars. A domed skylight admits light into the center of the hall. On the qibla wall's southern end is a door onto the tomb chamber. This door is surmounted by the monument's oldest dated inscription, which mentions that a Muhammad ibn Rashid renovated the mosque (jaddada hadhihi al-'imara al-mubaraka) in 735 AH (1334-1335 CE).
The tomb chamber is a vaulted cube. The square base measures approximately 4 m x 4 m. The walls rise to a height of approximately 7 meters before transitioning to an octagonal drum. At the top of this wall, at a height of around 6.5 meters, is a cornice made of a blind arcade surmounted by an inscription. The octagonal drum is masked by two rows of muqarnas cells, pierced by four windows. The ceiling is covered by a shallow dome with a painted calligraphic medallion that dates to the Ottoman period. It masks the original interior of the vault, which would have shown eleven courses of muqarnas cells, increasingly narrower in diameter, that form the complex's dramatic tower. Restoration work undertaken in the 1970s revealed that the interior of these cells were decorated with painted plaster decoration featuring naturalistic and detailed vegetal ornaments.2
The muqarnas dome of the complex, rising to a height of 11 meters atop its 7.5 meter base, is a striking example of a local tradition of muqarnas domes with no outer covering, so that the backs of the cells are exposed and create a sculptural form. This type of dome is found throughout lower Iraq and the adjoining regions of Khuzistan and Luristan (both in southwest Iran).3
The many additions to the complex exemplify the nature of holy shrines in Iraq, where centuries of rebuilding often obscures original forms. In this case, both the original form and its date are uncertain. The earliest inscription (that over the door to the tomb chamber from the prayer hall) is dated 735 AH and mentions a renovation, suggesting that the structure existed beforehand. The date of the vaulted tomb chamber can be pushed farther back still based on a 13th/7th-century AH text mentioning that a tower was erected over the grave of Suhrawardi.4 The close relationship of Suhrawardi to the Abbasid caliph al-Nasir li-Din Allah, and the fact that the caliph constructed another tomb for his mother of a similar form, suggest that he may have been the patron.5 Certainly, the style of the muqarnas vault and an inscription preserved on the north side of the tomb chamber's exterior, all but blocked from view by the mosque, are consistent with the beginning of the 13th/7th c. AH. Unfortunately, this inscription, which curiously mentions a renovation (tajdid), is cut short, leaving the date and identity of the patron obscure.6
[Strika and Khalil mention that it was removed after recent renovations, as do Hadithi and 'Abd al-Khaliq.
Hadithi and 'Abd al-Khaliq, 41.
Tabbaa, "Muqarnas Dome."
Angelika Hartmann, an-Nāṣir li-Dīn Allāh (1180-1225): Politik, Religion, Kultur in der späten 'Abbāsidenzeit (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1975).
For an image, see Hadithi and 'Abd al-Khaliq, fig. 28.
first quarter 13th/7th c. AH, tomb renovated in 1334-1335/735 AH, building renovated and mosque endowed in 1511/917 AH, mosque extensively renovated in 1833-1834/1249 AH, additions made to the mosque in 1853/1272 AH