This two-storied, brick historic monument is situated close to the left bank of the Tigris River in the al-Maiden neighborhood of Baghdad. While there is much contention over the original date of the site, stylistically it was probably constructed during al-Mustansir's caliphate, dating it to the late Abbasid period (1175-1230). Excavations and restoration efforts provide evidence that it most likely functioned as a madrasa rather than a palace.
At its eastern courtyard façade, this impressive structure highlights a grand, barrel-vaulted iwan whose surface is ornately decorated in the Seljuk style with geometrically composed brick carved in arabesques. It also features two riverside gates flanking a blind iwan and lead into two passageways to the interior, creating a design which preserves privacy by not allowing visual access to the inner quarters of the school. This organization of the entrance plan is known as mabain, "that which is between." From the inside, the courtyard is bordered by a muqarnas-vaulted arcade surrounded by small chambers which would have been used by the students at the madrasa. This floor plan was probably duplicated on both stories. Opposite the magnificent iwan to the east, the western section of the court opened into a large hall that functioned as a musalla, a place to pray. This feature of the site provides further proof that it functioned as a madrasa rather than a palace.
There have been efforts to excavate and preserve the site by the Iraqi Directorate of Antiquities, including the restoration of the great iwan and its adjacent facades.
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Khalil, Jabir and Strika, Vincenzo. The Islamic Architecture of Baghdad; the Results of a Joint Italian -Iraqi Survey, 71-74. Napoli: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1987.
Michell, George. ed. Architecture of the Islamic World; Its History and Social Meaning, 247. London: Thanes & Hudson, 1978.