Qubahan Medrese

Alternative Names

Qubakhan Medrese


Begun ca. 12th century AD

MMM Documentation Dates
Fall 2013
Site Type
Religious Buildings and Complexes
Duhok Governorate


    & Western Wing Facades

    Arched Entranceway

    Arched Entranceway

    Northern Wing (Iwan Niches)

    Southern Wing (Facade Details)

    Southern Wing (Interior)

    Southwestern Building

    Masonry & Relief Details (Various Areas)

    Fragmentary Architectural Members (Courtyard)

    Historical Photographs

    Supplementary Images

    The Qubahan Medrese is located below Amadiya/Amedi in the Duhok Governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan. Situated in a valley at the northwestern foot of the citadel, it was accessed by way of a footpath leading from the western Mosul Gate. Attesting to the renown of Amadiya/Amedi as a center of Islamic scholarship in past times,1 it fell out of use and now lies partly in ruins. The exact circumstances of its construction, probably dating between the 12th and 16th centuries, are unknown.

    • 1. Šerefname, a Kurdish historical work from the end of the 16th century AD, describes Amadiya/Amedi as an important center of theological studies where several mosques and medreses were located, though the Qubahan Medrese is not specifically mentioned; see Nováček et al. 2011, 179.

    The Qubahan Medrese is built mainly of limestone ashlars, with some areas of rougher stonework and/or brick construction. Despite its relatively poor state of preservation, its plan can be determined through the help of a diagram that was made while the school was still in use (thus likely before the 1920s).1 

    The building is laid out in the form of a rectangular enclosure, measuring approximately 38 x 23 m. It is entered from the west by way of a portal covered by a segmental arch. One of the arch’s blocks is decorated with an intricately carved medallion. The portal, once connected to a vaulted antechamber, provides access into a paved central courtyard (see the panorama). The east and west sides of the medrese are defined by shallow pointed arcades, with a small room behind each bay. These rooms are accessed by way of low, unadorned doors, and most have rectangular windows.

    The medrese’s two main wings lie to the north and south. The northern wing, once two-storied, is in relatively good condition. It is dominated by a spacious iwan with two smaller bays on either side. The iwan, whose pointed vault is constructed of brick, features three niches on its rear wall; the central arch here spouts water into a small fountain. The southern wing, probably the oldest part of the complex, is very poorly preserved. It was once fronted with a colonnade, the bases of which remain in situ in the courtyard. Beyond this portico, the wing itself was entered by way of a portal flanked by two windows. It is topped with a large tympanum carved with inscriptions. This leads into a spacious central room covered by an octagonal dome, also made of brick (see the panorama). Two subsidiary rooms stood on either side of this central space. A poorly preserved building—part of a separate construction phase—juts out from the southwestern corner of the medrese. Tripartite in plan, this can likely be identified as mosque, courtyard, and mausoleum.

    Ruins in the surrounding area suggest that the medrese was not isolated but was part of a small, possibly fortified settlement.

    • 1. Salam Ru’úf 2009, 114; cf. Nováček et al. 2011, fig. 4.

    See Nováček et al. 2011 for an extremely thorough description of the architecture of the Qubahan Medrese.

    Poorly preserved Arabic inscriptions are found in the tympanum of the main portal of the medrese’s southern wing.1 These inscriptions have not yet been deciphered.

    • 1. See the diagram in Nováček et al. 2011, fig. 12.

    No preserved documents attesting to the foundation of the Qubahan Medrese are known; only disparate oral traditions survive. However, different building phases can be identified through construction techniques, and their chronology has been approximated by way of comparative architectural analysis along with limited archaeological data.1 The earliest part of the medrese, the south wing, seems to date to the 12th century AD (the Zengid era); the northern wing was probably added sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries. Additions and reconstructions appear to have continued until the Late Ottoman era. The building was already largely ruined when the notorious politician and military officer Mark Sykes—the only traveler to mention it—went to Amadiya/Amedi in 1902 (see his photograph).2 Conservation work, possibly conducted in the 1970s, is evident in the eastern wing.

    • 1. In 2009, a Kurdish-Czech team carried out architectural documentation, ground surveying, and excavation throughout the structure (Nováček et al. 2011; on the structure’s building phases and chronology, see pp. 197–202).
    • 2. Sykes 1904, 166.

    “History” general references: Ammann 2005/2005, 215–216 and n. 202; Nováček et al. 2011.

    Ammann, Birgit. 2004-2005. “Kleine Geschichte der Stadt Amadiya: Von streitbaren Fürsten, kurdischen Juden und grausamen Zeiten.” Kurdische Studien 4/5: 175–226.

    Nováček, Karel, et al. 2011. “Zangi-Period Architecture in Iraqi Kurdistan: Medrese Qubahan at Amêdi (‘Amadíya).” Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie 4: 176–210.

    Salam Ru’úf, I. A. 2009. al-Sulṭān Ḥusayn al-Walī ʻĀmir Bahdīnān min 940 ila 981 H / 1533 - 1573 M [Sulṭān Ḥusayn al-Walī ʻĀmir Bahdīnān from 940 until 981 Hijri /1533 – 1573 AD]. Silsilat iṣdārāt al-Jamʻīyah al-Thaqāfīyah al-Tārīkhīyah li-Kurdistan.

    Sykes, Mark. 1904. Dar-ul-Islam: A Record of a Journey through Ten of the Asiatic Provinces of Turkey. London: Bickers.

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