The Mansouri Great Mosque is the first monument built in the new Mamluke city of Tripoli and remains the largest and best known of the city's mosques. The name Mansouri Great Mosque refers to AlMansour Qalawoon, who liberated Tripoli from the Crusaders in 688 H/1289 CE. The mosque was erected by his two sons Sultan Ashraf Khalil Bin Qalawoon, who ordered its construction in 693 H/1294 CE, and Sultan AlNasser Mohammed Ben Qalawoon, who had the arcade built around the courtyard in 715 H/1315 CE.
Located on the site of what was once a Crusade suburb at the foot of the Tripoli Citadel, the mosque was often mistaken for a remodeled Christian church by medieval travelers and modern historians alike.
Location: Nouri District.
Surface Area: 3,000 m2.
Commissioned by: Sultan Ashraf Khalil Bin Qalawoon.
Historical Period: Mameluke.
Architect: Salem Sahyouni Ben Nassereddeen Aajami.
Porticoes Commissioned by: Sultan AlNasser Mohammed Ben Qalawoon.
Architect of Porticoes: Ahmed Ben Hassan Baalbaki (715 H/1315 CE).
Pulpit Commissioned by: Prince Shehabeddeen Qaratay.
Architect of Pulpit: Baktawan Ben Abdullah AlShehabi (726 H/1326 CE).
Current Proprietor: Islamic Awqaf Directorate of Tripoli.
In 693 H/1294 CE, the Mameluke Sultan AlAshraf Khalil Bin Qalawoon ordered the architect Salem Sahyouni Ben Nassereddeen Aajami to build the Mansouri Great Mosque in the Nouri District. The Sultan also commissioned the construction of a small defensive tower next to the western gate of the mosque to protect it. The porticoes of the mosque where built by Ahmed Ben Hassan Baalbaki. The final structure of the mosque occupies an area of about 50 by 60 meters; almost 3,000 meters square. Both, Aajami and Baalbaki were affected by the Shamiyyeh (Damascene) School of architecture, which is characterized by the use of huge, but simple, architectural structures.
In 715 H/1315 CE, Sultan Nasser Mohammed Ben Qalawoon ordered the construction of the lobbies of the yard of the Mansouri Great Mosque. In 726 H/1326 CE, the wooden pulpit (Menbar) of the Mansouri Great Mosque, was made by the order of Prince Shehabeddeen Qaratay.
Prayer Area: Small dome over mihrab area; simple cross vaults over remaining areas.
Riwaqs (north, east, and west sides of court): Simple cross-vaulting.
The outer area or middle courtyard has a surface area of 1369 square meters. It shows a traditional arrangement with a central courtyard, single porticoes on three sides, a deeper domed and vaulted qibla side for prayer, and a central fountain. The porticoes display a rhythmic arrangement of identical low arches in the courtyard, and a continuous corridor-like area of simple cross-vaulting behind. The ablution fountain in the middle of the courtyard consists of two adjoining square units, one of which is covered by a dome.
Portal: Rectangular door set in a portal of successive arches of alternating plain and zigzag carved stone moldings, resting on two slender colonettes of white marble and four narrow wall segments; preceded by an Arab cross-vaulted entryway. A row of spiky quatrefoil rosettes in relief decorates the inner side of the arched entryway right behind the main entrance.
The mosque has three axial entrances set to the north, east, and west, but there are also two others on either side of the prayer hall.
Minaret: The square-towered minaret has been re-plastered and repaired many times. It has four floors topped by a balcony on which an octagonal shaft, with its own balcony and conical dome, has been built in recent years. The first story of the minaret has no openings; the second has two arched windows with a central column on each of its four sides; and the third and fourth have three arched windows on the south and north and two on the east and west.
The inner courtyard consists of the prayer hall and has a surface area of 1631 square meters. The prayer hall takes up the entire qibla side of the mosque and consists of two aisles divided by six large piers to form 14 areas, 13 of them covered by simple cross-vaults, and the fourteenth, the area in front of the mihrab, by a small dome.
Mihrab: The axial main mihrab is located at the center of Qiblah wall with a rosette set above it. Another smaller mihrab is located to the left of the main one.
Minbar: Wooden chair entirely covered with geometric carving. The painted rosette above the minbar is clearly reused; the word "Allah" appears in its center and the same two motifs as were used inside and outside the main gate decorate the periphery.
The Mansouri Great Mosque is the largest historical mosque in Tripoli and Lebanon as well. It forms the basic axis of the Mameluke Tripoli plan of architecture.
The main portal of the Mansouri Great Mosque, is decorated in a Qouti fashion holding on the inside an arc of decorations of stars and successive flowers which are present also in the round piece over the Mihrab of the mosque.
A visitor entering the courtyard sees to the right of the main entrance two granite columns springing from the pavement. Similarly, two such columns stand in front of Taynal Mosque and two others in front of Madrassa AlSaqraqiyyah. These columns do not seem to have any practical or decorative function and could be remnants of classical times (probably Phoenician) that were for some reason left standing.
In the neighboring area around the mosque, there are markets where valuable articles are traded like: gold, silver, jewels, perfumes, spices, incenses, books, rose and flower waters, chaplets, paper threads, ropes and many other things that don't harm the sense of smell and sight and don't cause noise that disrupts the prayers. The nearest of those markets is the jewelry market (Souq AlSayyagheen) located near the northern main gate of the mosque. At the eastern side of the mosque, is the perfumers market (Souq AlAattareen), to which two other gates of the mosque can be opened. The fourth gate opens to the west side of the city. Not far away from the mosque, stands the Nouri Hammam.
The many foundation plaques and decrees inscribed in the Mansouri Great Mosque and its surrounding madrassas not only inform us about the building, but reveal details of the daily life during the Mameluke period.
Two of these inscription tablets record the date of the construction and the names of its founders. One of the two external inscriptions is set on the lintel of the main entrance to the mosque. It consists of three lines of clearly written Naskh script. It reads as follows: "In the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate, our master the most powerful sultan, lord of Arab and Persian kings, conqueror of the frontiers and exterminator of the infidels, AlMalik AlAshraf Salah AlDunya wa AlDin Khalil, the associate of the commander of the faithful, son of our master Sultan AlMalik AlMansur Sayf AlDunya wa AlDin Qalawoon AlSalehi, may Allah perpetuate his reign, has ordered the construction of this sacred mosque, during the governorship of His High Excellency the great Amir AlIzzi Izzeddeen Aybak AlKhazandar [the treasurer] AlAshrafi AlMansouri, governor of the sultanate in the conquered lands and protected shores, may Allah forgive him. In the year six hundred and ninety-three [H/1294 CE]. Glory to Allah the One and Only." Following the inscription, in the left-hand corner, between the lintel and the arch, three additional short lines have been squeezed in. They read: "The humble servant of Allah Salim AlSahyouni, son of Nasir AlDin the Persian, has undertaken the construction of this blessed mosque. May Allah forgive him."
The second inscription is set in the eastern wall of the arcade around the courtyard and refers to the completion of the mosque. A plaque of white marble shaped like a tri-lobed arch on a horizontal band, it comprises 10 lines of Naskh script and reads as follows: "In the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate, only the one who believes in Allah and the Last Day shall inhabit Allah's places of worship [Qur'an 9.18]. Our master the sultan, the king, the victorious, the just, the learned, the warrior, the triumphant, Nasir AlDunya wa AlDin Muhammad ibn Qalawoon, may Allah perpetuate his reign, has ordered these riwaqs to complete the blessed mosque, during the governorship of His High Noble Excellency Qustay AlNaseri, governor of the province of Tripoli, may Allah fortify his victories, under the supervision of His High Excellency Badr AlDin Muhammad, son of Abu Bakr, inspector of flourishing diwans, may Allah lengthen his favor. It was completed in the months of the year seven hundred and fifteen [H/1314-15 CE], may Allah bless our lord Mohammad. The humble servant of God Ahmad ibn Hasan AlBaalbaki the architect has undertaken its construction."
A third inscription is located on a secondary mihrab to the left of the axial mihrab on the qiblah side of the building. It has four lines of Naskh script recording that Usundumur ordered the marble revetment of the mihrab in 883 H/1478 CE: "The humble slave of God, Usundumur AlAshrafi, governor of the royal province of Tripoli, the well protected, has ordered the marble revetment of the blessed mihrab, may Allah fortify his victories, under the administration of our lord the judge of judges the Shafiite, the Imam in the beginning of Rabi II of the year eight hundred and eighty-three under the supervision of Inspector Mohammad."
The minbar is home for a fourth inscription which includes two lines in a clear Naskh script. This inscription identifies the donor of the Mihrab as Prince Qaratay and give the date of its execution as 726 H/1326 CE. It reads as follows: "The humble slave of Allah, Qaratay, son of Abdallah AlNaseri, has ordered the construction of this blessed minbar, may Allah reward him. He has delegated this work to Baktuwan, son of Abdallah AlShahabi, may Allah recognize his effort, in the month of Zhu AlQaedah of the year seven hundred and twenty-six."
This is a hall that was recently renovated and it is home for AlAthar AlSharif, which is a relic from the Prophet Mohammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam), namely a hair from his barb, kept in display in the mosque. The relic is put on public display in a ceremony attended by the mufti (highest Mulsim religious authority) and senior clerics in the last week of the month of Ramadhan.
Ottoman Sultan Abdel Hamid II gifted the relic to the city of Tripoli in recognition for the city’s allegiance. The relic is preciously kept in a locked glass display area in the room along with other ancient items recovered from the city and historical copies of the Holy Quran.
Just before the end of the 7th H/13th CE century, the Shafii judge of Tripoli, Ahmed Ben Abi Backer Ben Mansour Ben Attieh Eskandari - also called as Shamseddeen -, built a madrassa next to the main gate of the Mansouri Great Mosque. He built above it a dwelling for him. The construction of the madrassa and the house coincided with the construction of Mansouri Great Mosque. The famous historian Shamseddeen AlZahabi, stayed at the house during his educational journey to Tripoli (after 697 H/1289 CE). When the judge Eskandari died, he was buried within the premisses of his madrassa in (707 H/1307 CE). The madrassa is still known as the Madrassa AlShamsiyyah.
In 716 H/1316 CE, Prince Katlobeck Mansouri, the brother-in-law of Asandamor Kourji, died, and his wife Hossen built a madrassa over his grave near the Mansouri Great Mosque. This madrassa is currently known as Khairiyyah Hossen Madrassa. The statement sculpted above the portal of the madrassa mentions the names of many construction sites inside and outside Tripoli. Some of these articles are: a soap workshop (Masbanah), an oil-mill on top of which a dwelling block exists, Dawoodieh grinder, Sandamooriyyah grinder (located at the town of Kafr Qahel), Asandamor market inside Tripoli, an abbey in Asnon land, an olive store-house, a hall, a house near the school, the Jadidah grinder at Aardat, an olive field in Bterram, a house and a store in the Crusaders' Qisariyyah within Tripoli.