History and Inscriptions: The Madrasa Saqraqiyyah has one of the longest inscriptions to be found in Tripoli, with a very specific waqjyyah that ought to be useful for reconstructing the socioeconomic history of fourteenth-century Syria. In addition to the details of the waqf and the ways in which its proceeds are to be spent, the inscription gives the name of the founder as Chamberlain Aqturaq, and the date of the completion of the building as
On the Saqraqiyyah what appears to be a continuous inscription along the facade and inside the doorway is in fact two separate inscriptions: a waqf document on either side of the facade and a Qur anic text inside the doorway.
The Quranic inscription, Surat al-Hijr 15.45-49, mentioned but not recorded by Sobernheim, runs in a wide band on all three sides of the gate and reads:
"In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, the God-fearing shall be amidst gardens and fountains. Enter you then in peace and security. We shall strip away all rancour that is in their breast, as brothers they shall be upon couches set face to face; no fatigue there shall smite them, neither shall they ever be driven forth from there. Tell my servants I am the All-forgiving, the All-compassionate."
The second inscription runs on two levels of two lines each on either side of the gate. It was recorded by Sobernheims as follows:
'In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, His Honorable Excellency Sayf al-Din Aqturaq the chamberlain has constituted as waqf this blessed place as a masjid for Allah and as a mausoleum for burial. He has provided the following waqf for its upkeep, furnishings, and decoration: the whole of the two adjoining farms in the district of Hisn al-Akrad [Krac des Chevaliers], known as the Field of the Sultan and Qumayra; and the whole of the orchards adjoining the village of Rish m in the district of Tarablus, one known as Mas ud and the other as Bab al-Aframi; and the whole of the four shops set on the eastern side of the Confectioners' Suqsuq alhalawiyyiq] in Tripoli; and the whole of the house adjoining the masjid; and all of the three houses in the vicinity of the Khan al-Misriyyin in Tripoli; and the whole of the dispersed portion and its value; and the half and the quarter of the entire house to the north of the engineer's khan by the old bridge; and the whole of the oven known as Kurr Khulid, for the masjid mentioned and legally constituted as waqf. As for the use of the revenue, it is to begin with the building and its upkeep after which the following is to be spent each month: forty dirhams for the imam of the mosque; fifty dirhams for the two mu'azzins who take turns in prayers from the minaret of the said mosque; thirty dirhams for the intendant of the mosque and mausoleum; fifty dirhams for five people to read prayers in the said mosque together and individually; fifteen dirhams for the price of oil, of lamps, of cleaning equipment, and for the bringing of water. And to be spent on each Monday of every week are three dirhams for bread, to be distributed by the door of the mausoleum, and one single dirham for the price of water and ice; and, in the same fashion, to be spent on the Thursday of each week and every month are eleven dirhams for the price of clothing, such as a shirt and fine clothes and other things, for Muslim orphans, widows, and poor people. And whatever remains after that is to be spent on whoever is poor or needy among the children of he who provided the waqf, or their descendants or his freed slaves, with no distinctions. And if there are no needy among them, the money is to be distributed to the Muslims among the poor by the door of the mausoleum. For the supervision of the above he has designated himself, then the wisest of his children and descendants, and whoever is an important chamberlain in Tripoli. He has also stipulated that the waqf is not to be rented for more than three years at a time, that the revenue is to be spent and not to be subjected to abuse and alleged taxes as is specified in the written waqf dated in the middle of zu al Iqdah al-Haram in the year seven hundred and fifty-seven [November 9, 1356] and duly registered in the court of justice in Tripoli the protected. And this was inscribed in Rabi al-awwal in the year [seven hundred and] sixty [February 1359]. And the right of water for this masjid, a legal right, is in the amount of three-quarters of an inch from the aqueduct of Tripoli.'
From the outside, the Saqraqiyyah presents a simple facade of plaster covered sandstone. If we exclude the dome set to the north over the tomb chamber, it is perfectly symmetrical, with a central gateway, a simple, deep, arched entrance with the bands of inscription as the only decoration. Two granite columns from ancient remains once stood on either side of the entrance. The one still remaining is similar to the classical columns in Taynal's Mosque and in the interior courtyard of the Great Mosque.
The two walls on either side of the entrance are identical in size and arrangement. They are each opened by two windows, surrounded by alternating courses of black and white stone; a course of geometric decoration which forms a lintel topped by a course of complex joggled stone joins the two windows. On each side, the decorative course above the windows has a heraldic shield in its center, whose round blazon has a sword placed diagonally across a three-fielded shield. The emblem has been identified by Mayers as that of Aqturaq, his Honorable Excellency the chamberlain.
The Saqraqiyyah Masjid has no minaret, unusual for a mosque where the call for prayer requires one, and all the more puzzling because the waqf inscribed on the facade states the exact salary to be paid to the "two mu azzins who take turns praying from the minaret of the said mosque." It is possible that the minaret was subsequently either pulled down or fell down and was not rebuilt, but more probably it was planned but never actually constructed.
The dome identifies the building from a distance. Its ribbed cupola rests on a circular sixteen-sided area over an octagonal drum with four arched windows and four blank corners, the whole reRecting the interior of the superstructure.
The plan shows a very simple and clear interior consisting of a small entrance hall behind the main door, a prayer room with mihrab to the left behind the left wall segment of the facade, and a tomb chamber to the right beneath the dome.
The central area is a simple hall, too small to have had any particular function. It is covered by typically Tripoli vaulting of concave lines meeting in a rosette. The prayer area to the left is entered from the north through the vestibule, and each of its three other walls are opened by a pair of windows. Like the vestibule, it is covered by Tripoli vaulting meeting in a concave rosette.
The tomb chamber is clearly the most important element of the building both inside and out. A square room entered through a door from the vestibule, it has two windows on its eastern wall, one to the north, and a door to the west. The room is covered by one of the most decorative superstructures in Tripoli: the dome is all ribbed inside, giving the room a star cupola effect in relief; and the four Damascus type of corner concave niches in the octagonal zone and the alternate niches in the sixteen-sided zone have an applied plaster decoration of stylized vegetation resembling Sassanian wing motifs. It is a more simplified version of the stucco decoration found in the flat arches on the drum of the mausoleum of Ibn al-Muqaddam in Damascus built about 1200. It was as unusual a shape and motif in Damascus as it was in Tripoli, where plaster decoration usually takes the shape of round medallions applied to the wall and is rarely seen on domes or corner squinches.
This domed tomb chamber with its ribbed cupola and its plasterdecorated squinches is clearly the most important part of the building; its visibility from the outside suggests it may even have been its raisond'etre. To perpetuate his name, Aqturaq built an important funerary chamber and an exceedingly simple masjid (which apparently never served that function), and anxious that it remain as he wished it after his death he composed his detailed waqfiyyahs and had them inscribed and legally registered right on the building" (Salam 1983: 135-141).
(Source: Salam-Liebich, Hayat, 1983. The Architecture of the Mamluk City of Tripoli. Cambridge: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.)