"Next to the Great Mosque, the Mosque of Taynal, locally called "Taylan," though why is unknown, is considered the most important monument in Tripoli. Whatever else they might mention, medieval travelers and twentieth-century scholars alike always include Taynal's mosque in any survey.
Ibn Hajar (d. 1449) writes that he "visited Taynal's mosque in Tripoli, prayed in it several times, and considered it among the best mosques.... It is the musallah of Tripoli on feast days, and it is known as the Mosque of Taylan." Al-Utayfi, who visited Tripoli in 1634, talks about "Taylan's" mosque as a "large institution" where prayer is held on feast days; and in 1700 when Al-Nabulsi visited Tripoli for a fortnight he prayed in the Great Mosque on the first Friday and in Taynal's mosque on the second. The tradition was maintained when Max van Berchem and E. Fatio visited Tripoli during their Syrian trip in the early twentieth century; again Taynal's mosque was one of the three monuments they described.
The founding inscription is set above the door on the main inner portal and identifies the benefactor and the date of construction. It consists of five lines of naksh script set on either side of a square which records nine names in a rotating Kufic motif; they are not recorded by Sobernheim, and three are undecipherable. The other six read: "Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Abd Al-Rahman."
The inscription itself reads:
"In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, His Excellency the noble, the high master Taynal Al-Nasiri, governor of the sultanate, has ordered the building of this blessed Jami'. Glorified in Tripoli the well-guarded, in the days of Al-Malik Al-Nasir, in the month of Rajab, in the year seven hundred and thirty-six [A.D. 1336]."
We thus learn that Amir Taynal ordered the construction of this mosque and that it was completed in February-March 1336. Two more inscriptions, one on either side of this same inner portal, reiterate Taynal's sponsorship of the mosque and of the mausoleum attached to it, give all the waqf information regarding the two structures, and specify the method for its distribution.
The inscription on the right consists of four lines of naksh following the angle of the doorway; it reads as follows:
"In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, our master His Noble High Excellency, the master, the governor, the lord, the man in power, the served one, Sayf Al-Din Taynal Al-Nasiri, governor of the royal province of Tripoli, has ordered the building of this mosque erected to the glory of God, may God fulfill his hopes and accept his works among the good ones. And he has constituted as waqf [in favor of the mosque] to be used for the functions specified in his written waqf: the whole garden known as Hamawi, in the outskirts of Tripoli, and the whole of the two shops next to the door of the mosque, and the whole garden formerly known as Altuntash in the irrigated land of Tripoli, and the whole of the two shops next to the suq of arms, next to the bath known as Usindamur, and these are now the property of the founder; and the whole of the third of the khan known as the old Dar Al-Wakalah, and the whole village known as Arzumyyah in the dependencies of Arqa in the bay of Tripoli. And he stipulated that whatever excess from the revenue of this waqf remains after proper reductions are made for those employed in its specified functions and maintenance as prescribed in the waqf is to be spent on the poor and the impoverished living in Tripoli and coming to Tripoli at the discretion of the supervisor of the mosque, but without his allocating a fixed wage to anyone, neither monthly nor daily. Should anyone change or interfere with this or assign a regular salary, he shall be struck by the malediction of God, the angels, and the whole of mankind."
This exceedingly generous endowment, which included whole shops and villages, was for the upkeep of the mosque alone. Another equally generous endowment was provided for the upkeep of the mausoleum (though in the end Taynal was never buried there), and the waqf document for that is inscribed again on the inner portal opposite the first one. The inscription on the left reads as follows:
"In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, our master the previously mentioned king of the Amirs, may God recognize his good [deeds] and accept them from him, give him goodness, and be happy with him, has ordered the building of this blessed mausoleum, may God have pity on him who lies in it. And he has constituted as waqf to ensure the upkeep of the mausoleum and for the salaries of those employed in it as specified in its acts, the whole upper floor to its east known as al-Khailbi and the whole of the renovated market [Qaysanyyah] near the Mosque of Arzum to the west, by the stalls of the dealers in used clothing, and the number of its shops is sixteen and of its rooms upstairs sixteen; and all of the two shops by the Suq of the Ironmongers [Haddadin] on the western side previously known as Abl Rabbihi; and the entirety of the shops and floor built by the founder in the old 'Arsah; and the entirety of the six newly built shops by the founder previously called Muzaffar in the Suwayqat Al-Qadi; and the three rooms above them; and the whole of the enclosed area in the vicinity of this mosque to the south; and the whole of the land to the south of the Maydan; on the condition that whatever remains from the revenues of these Waqfs, after the proper reductions are made for those employed in the functions specified and the maintenance prescribed in the waqf, is to be spent on the poor and the impoverished living in Tripoli and coming to Tripoli, but without fixed wages, and whoever gives a salary to anyone or establishes a regular income which resembles a salary, God shall be his enemy, shall ask him to render his account, shall put him with the depraved on the Day of Judgment, with those who have made efforts in the wrong direction during life on earth while under the impression that they were doing the right thing.
The two waqf documents of the mosque and of the mausoleum also refer to the extensive wealth of Amir Taynal.
But who was this Amir Taynal, and what do we know about him? He is often mentioned in the chronicles, and his biography is recounted in Al-Safadi and repeated in Qadi Shuh. Bah, whose account closely follows Al-Safadi's. They both maintain that Taynal was one of the Mamluks who had given their allegiance to Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil, whom they call Al-Ashrafi (as does the first inscription). Al-Maqrizi, on the other hand, claims that Taynal was one of the Mamluks of Muhammad al-Nasir (under whose reign the mosque was built; the title "al-Nasiri" is attributed to the founder in the second inscription). An accurate chronology can also be drawn from these biographies: in 1326 Taynal was named successor to Qaratay as governor of Tripoli; in 1333 Taynal caused so much trouble for Tankiz that he was sent to Ghazzah, a less important post than Tripoli; in 1335 Taynal regained Tankiz's favor and was again named governor of Tripoli; in 1340 Tankiz was deposed, and Taynal had to leave Tripoli; in 1341 Taynal took back his post in Tripoli; and finally in 1343 he died in Damascus.
From this list we can conclude that Taynal had three terms of office in Tripoli beginning respectively in 1326, 1335, and 1341, and that the mosque was built during his second term. The chronicles praise him as an intelligent man with administrative talents, but also describe him as miserly and greedy. Ibn Battutah, who visited Tripoli during Taynal's first term, describes the pomp that surrounded him when he moved around the city and tells us that "his residence there is in the mansion known as Dar al-Saadah (the Abode of Felicity)." We also know that he owned a house in Damascus, later to become the Madrasah Taynaliyyah, and that he built himself a house in Cairo on the "site of the Fatimid hospital" next to the Al-Azhar mosque. But his mosque in Tripoli must still be considered his most ambitious undertaking.
The mosque's large size, lavish decorations, and the fame of its founder attracted a great deal of attention in its early days. Later, people were interested in it largely on account of its architectural peculiarities. In 1700 Al-Nabuls notes that it is a "pleasant Jami', but strange in style and unusual in its organization." Later scholars, including van Berchem and Fatio, explained its peculiarities as reflecting the remnants of a Crusader church; a recent study advances the theory that it was built on the remains of a temple dedicated to Zeus. Whatever the theory, they all have one observation in common: the shape of the mosque and some of its architectural elements suggest that it once fulfilled some different function.
The minbar has two inscriptions, one at the top, the other on a lower level. The inscription at the top, five lines of naksh, reads as follows:
In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate, only he shall inhabit God's place of worship who believes in God and the Last Day and performs the prayer and pays the alms and fears none but God alone, may those be among the guided ones [Quran 9.18]. This minbar was completed in the month of Zul Iqdah in the year seven hundred and thirty-six.
Completed in June or July 1336, the minbar is contemporary with the mosque, which was finished in March of the same year.
The second inscription on the minbar, a line of naksh, gives us the name of the carpenter, who apparently was pleased enough with his work to sign it in an obvious place:
[This is] the work of master Muhammad al-Safadl, may God have mercy on those who show mercy to him.
Yet another inscription is on the portal tympanum area formed by the arch and the lintel. It is very beautiful in white decorative Kufic on a black ground, but unfortunately almost indecipherable (fig. 41). It is not recorded by Sobernheim.
Taynal's mosque stands alone in the middle of an orchard, and can be viewed from all sides; its profile of domes and minaret identifies it as a distinctly Muslim building. An oblong structure of sandstone, its four domes are of various sizes and shapes that reflect its interior superstructure: a large dome resting on a sixteen-sided zone, a higher dome resting on a double drum, and a medium dome on a sixteen sided zone followed by a small ribbed dome.
The rather unusually shaped minaret to the east of the mosque is also of sandstone. A rectangular short shaft carries an even shorter octagonal shaft resting on four buttresses and ending in a balcony around two superimposed cylinders. For decoration, the square shaft is opened by windows with a cushion voussoir arch, as is the case with the minarets of Qalaun (1285) and Salar and Sanjar (1303) in Cairo, a motif commonly used by Latins and Muslims alike. The octagonal shaft is opened by four windows topped by a lintel slab, and it carries vertical cornerstones with a rounded top around the balcony. It has an interesting twin set of stairs, one of which opens into the mausoleum area of the mosque and the other leads to the outside, the two running separately within the shaft up to the balcony. This unusual system was also used in the minaret of Abd Al-Rahman in the Great Mosque of Cordoba.
While at a distance the domes and minaret display no special peculiarities, indications that there was once another structure on the site begin to appear when one approaches the mosque. Just in front of the outer door the tops of two granite columns rise a meter above the ground, and in the open courtyard before the entrance to the mosque the western wall shows clear signs of arches and of wall segments used for the support of a superstructure. These two remnants need not be of the same period; the granite columns, which are clearly at a lower level, may well have belonged to a temple of Zeus that may once have stood on the site, and the western wall may equally well have been part of a Crusaders' church destroyed at the time of the Mamluk conquest of Tripoli.
In the Muslim period the exterior of Taynal's mosque was subjected to alterations on its entrance side. The main entrance, built in an alternation of black and white masonry with a row of joggled stones above the lintel, shows signs of having been changed from a rectangular to a deeply arched entrance by the addition of a whitewashed canopy.
The plan shows two units connected by an axial doorway; a northern entrance hall leads through the monumental inner portal to the southern square area which includes the mihrab. The first unit is an oblong three-aisled hall, with a wider central aisle leading to the inner portal. The area is divided by four granite columns of unequal width with four classical Corinthian capitals supporting the arches which carry the superstructure. This layout in columns, capitals, and arches led van Berchem and Fatio and modern writers who followed them to consider Taynal's mosque to be a reused Crusaders' church. The arrangement is indeed a curious one, and this room might well have belonged to an earlier Christian structure which itself had used older classical columns and capitals for supports.
The superstructure, however, is neither Roman nor Christian, for the two domes covering the first hall are of purely local Islamic tradition. The first of the two domes, to the north, has a simple cupola on a sixteen-sided zone with sixteen arches alternately opened and closed resting on four simple corner pendentives between the four arches. The second dome, set directly in front of the inner facade, is higher than the first, and the area it covers is raised on four blind arches to reach the height of the portal. The dome itself consists of a cupola on an octagonal zone of four arches and four fan-like corner squinches resting directly on the four walls, an arrangement often encountered in Tripoli, the dome in the Madrasa Qadiriyya representing the closest parallel.
The floor, like the superstructure, is a Mamluk addition. The whole central aisle of the first hall is covered by a large pattern of marble mosaics which originally included a marble fountain in its middle (now removed). Though badly damaged (the mosque served as a shelter for Palestinian refugees for some fifteen years), the marble flooring shows a pattern of large square units of geometric motifs in red, black, and white marble. The motifs are ambitious choices from the known Mamluk decorative vocabulary in Tripoli for example, on the floors of al-Burtasi's mosque and the Madrasa Qartawiyya and include the rotating swastika pattern used on the inner facade and a simplified version of the rotating knot on the facade of the Qartawiyya. If this first hall is indeed a reused part of a Crusaders' church, the architect has managed to give it a Muslim flavor through the use of Mamluk domes and Mamluk flooring and by using an axial fountain to direct attention to the inner facade that leads to the second unit beyond.
The second main area is a totally Muslim construction in its plan, elements, and decoration. A covered central courtyard has a vaulted area around a sunken court, the floor is all covered with marble, and the area around the court is of a joggled black and white Ablaq. The superstructure consists of simple long and short cross-vaults to the sides and of two domes on the axis. The first of the two domes covers the central court and rests on a sixteen sided zone of niches on simple pendentives. The second dome covers the area in front of the Mihrab, and although the smallest of the four domes, it is the most decorative. It consists of a ribbed cupola resting on sixteen niches over an octagonal zone with corner squinches (fig. 53).
The mihrab itself is very simple; its only decorations are the two side colonnettes of white marble. The minbar is a masterpiece of Mamluk woodwork with sides of a complex star pattern and a ramp decorated with geometric patterns, unfortunately by now heavily painted over.
The final element of Taynal's mosque is the monumental gateway placed between the two main areas. A tall portal rising to the height of the building, it is the focal point of the mosque. Constructed entirely of alternate courses of fine black and white masonry, the portal is framed by a zigzag motif of carved stone. Its size, proportions, and fine craftsmanship suggest that it was not intended merely to be an interior gateway but rather to function as a facade for the part of the building containing the mihrab. The rectangular opening which serves as a passageway is topped by a decorative motif formed by a relieving arch of complex joggled black and white stone pointing outward from a central white stone over a flat lintel of white stone slab with a center joggled stone. The tympanum area contains the beautiful but indecipherable inscription mentioned earlier. The composition of this arch and lintel with its inscription is exactly like that of the windows on the back wall of the Madrasa Qartawiyya.
Above that motif is the central panel surrounded by the founding inscriptions, the only decorative nonstructural element of the facade. It consists of three equal vertical rectangles of marble marquetry; a central plaque of red marble with a star motif in white marble, from which radiates a whole maze of geometric patterns in black and white; and side panels of two squares each containing a rotating swastika pattern in red, black, and white, like those on the floor of the first hall. These patterns are often encountered in Mamluk decoration (for example, on the Mosque of Tawrizi in Damascus). This panel is surmounted by a Muqarnas hood with corner shell motifs on two colonnettes and a top row of stalactite Muqarnas. The half-dome at the top of the Muqarnas is decorated with a large zigzag motif in relief accentuated by the layers of black and white running in from the sides of the gateway.
It seems likely that the second unit of the building with the mausoleum attached to it was the mosque that Amir Taynal built, since it is complete in its elements mihrab, minbar, minaret, and facade, and that Roman and Christian elements found lying about were refurbished with Mamluk accents (domes and floor) and then used to form the very large hall or vestibule. Taynal's mosque can thus best be explained by regarding it as a purely Muslim construction. The remains found on the site were only used in the first part of the building, and it is just this part that has created such confusion. It has none of the Muslim elements or requirements for a mosque, in contrast with the second, self-contained unit which displays all the elements of a mosque organized in a known Muslim fashion."
Salam-Liebich, Hayat, 1983. The Architecture of the Mamluk City of Tripoli. Cambridge: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.
Meinecke, Michael. 1992. Die Mamlukische Architektur in Ägypten und Syrien (648/1250 bis 923/1517). Glückstadt: Verlag J. J. Augustin, I/77, II/172.