The Qadiriyyah carries no inscriptions, and its founding date has not otherwise been determined. Its founder is equally obscure, for although the building is clearly a funerary madrasah with a tomb chamber and a tomb, the name of its benefactor is nowhere to be found. Vague as its history may be, the Qadiriyyah is a handsome, if simple, medium-size madrasah which is still in fair condition and is still playing a social role.
The name "al-Qadiriyyah" indicates the association of the madrasa with the Sufi order named after the Persian Sufi Abd-al-Qadir al-Jilani (1077-1166). It is most likely, therefore, that this madrasah served for some time as a meeting place for that order and was eventually named after it.
While the Qadiriyyah order is still active and has several established meeting places in present-day Tripoli, the madrasa is no longer one of them; it has since acquired a different function. Serving as a public kitchen for the poor, it has a sign outside announcing it as a "Restaurant, Free of Charge."
The Qadiriyyah has an organized facade along its entire eastern side; its elements are simple and functional: a doorway, three windows, and three upper openings for ventilation. The domes seen on the elevation are not visible from street level.
The windows, a pair and a single, are set on a slightly raised frame of polished stone and topped by a row of flattened-out muqarnas of Tripoli fish-scale motif. The gate is rectangular and rises the entire height of the building. A deep archway with stone mastabahs opens on a back wall containing a high and simple oculus and a rectangular door set three steps above street level. Between the oculus and the door are three plaques, one circular flanked by the other two square ones, which could have had some decoration or even inscriptions, but are now covered by a thick build-up of whitewash. The gate around this opening has alternate courses of black and white stone, now mostly painted over, and the whole is framed by a band of stone molding ending in a spiral on either side of the mastabahs.
This motif of a framing band ending in a spiral, although by no means common, is found on a few Mamluk monuments of the Fertile Crescent, such as the two fountains of Sulayman and Qaytbay (1455) in Jerusalem and the facade of the Qassab mosque (1408) in Damascus. In Tripoli it adorns the gateway of a defense tower in the harbor.
The interest of this motif lies in its pre-Islamic Syrian origin, on the whole, a time and style that had very little impact on Islamic architecture. The Muslims preferred to go back to Greek and Roman times for their inspiration rather than borrow from their early Christian predecessors.
In its original form, a sculptured band framing an architectural element such as a small door or window and turning outward in a spiral, this motif was fairly common in Christian Syria of the sixth century. In central Syria it can be seen on religious architecture, such as the facade of the basilica at Qalb-Lawzeh and the chapel of Kokanaya as well as on private dwellings such as the Maison d'Airamis, which the inscription tells us was built August 13, 510. In northern Syria, it is seen framing round upper-floor windows and rectangular doorways, as on the elevation of the west facade of the Church of Bakirha dated 501, and the Church of Khirbit Tezin dated 585.
While the sixth-century Christian origin of the motif appears to be indisputable, its Mamluk adaptation both in Tripoli and in Jerusalem shows two divergences from the original: the area framed is a tall, vertical span rather than a short, round or square horizontal opening, and in all instances the spiral turns inward rather than outward to include the area framed. The Damascene adaptation is geographically closer to the model and therefore a more exact translation of the motif: it turns outward, and the frame is square rather than oblong even when the door it surrounds is rectangular. The sixth-century Christian motif was adapted by the Mamluks for the framing or enclosing of architectural elements such as doorways and fountains.
A short corridor leads to a long prayer area, a square domed room, and a tomb chamber, the three main parts of the madrasah. The prayer area, a long, rectangular room, runs the width of the building. Its eastern and western walls are both opened by two deeply set windows; its southern side includes the simple mihrab, on the same axis as the square room. The floor is covered by a simple geometric pattern of black, white, and red marble, and the entire hall is covered by a simple cross-vault over the mihrab area.
The square room, a step higher than the prayer hall and covered by a well-composed dome, was probably the madrasah's main hali, possibly the room used for teaching and for gatherings other than prayer. Its western and northern sides extend behind arches beyond the square proper in what looks like shrunken atrophied iwans. The dome is a simple cupola with an octagonal opening resting on an octagonal drum of four opened arches and four corner squinches.
The tomb chamber, entered either from the corridor or from the square room, is a small domed room containing a marble tomb. It has no inscription, however, and therefore does not disclose the identity of the person burried there" (Salam 1983: 162-168).
(Source: Salam-Liebich, Hayat, 1983. The Architecture of the Mamluk City of Tripoli. Cambridge: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.)