The Jaqmaq School Confines the history of Arabic Calligraphy

Just steps from the northern gate of the Umayyad Mosque, and behind he Shrine of Saladin stands the Jaqmaq Madrsa (school). Once you step in there you feel the sanctity of the place emanating from the depth of history, particularly that you are in one of the oldest and most important schools of Old Damascus.

A living history

The school was built, by Prince Saifeddin Jaqmaq, viceroy of the Mamelouk Sultan in 1419 AD, as a madrasa and later it enshrined his tomb and that of his mother. For several generations the school graduated many groups of educated people, but in 1941 its flame was extinguished by the shells of French artillery.

After the independence it was restored by the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums, and in 1974 it was chosen home of Arabic calligraphy documenting its development through ages.

Mrs. Urouba alZubi, director of the museum told us that the aim of the museum is to protect historical documents and manuscripts which narrate the history of Arabic calligraphy. She accompanied us in a tour in the three wards of the museum and showed us the courtyard tiled with colored stones and marble, with a pond in the center.

Hand written Quranic verses written in Thuluth style are hung on the walls. The last part of the museum is the cemetery located in the north eastern corner which has two tombs; one for Prince Jaqmaq and the other for his mother. "The school in itself represents the aesthetic value of the Mamelouk architecture with its carvings and interlocuted colored stone parts" Mrs. alZubi told us.

Valuable contents Valuable contents

In the occasion of the festivities of Damascus Capital of Arabic Culture, the museum enjoyed several improvements and alterations which gave it a new look and life.

The place was redecorated, and electronic systems were introduced for documentation and indexing, in addition to issuing brochures in both Arabic and English, to acknowledge the visitors with the importance of the school and its contents which are mainly original pieces or duplicates from original ones.

One of the documents displayed is a copy of an inscription dating back to 328 AD and named "Imru alQais", after one of the brilliant Arab poets, which is a manuscript written in Nabatean letters. The original is kept in the Louver. In addition, there is a large collection of pottery, glass and copper tools with Quranic verses and religious invocations inscribed on them.

There is also a collection of writing tools made of colored china, a chart depicting the development of Arabic calligraphy since the pre Islamic period to the Ottoman era, divided into chronological tables.

The school usually receives researchers and visitors fond of activating their memories and educating themselves. The school has fewer visitors than other Syrian museums due to the lack of promotion, and because it is concealed behind a gigantic Islamic monument, namely the Umayyad Mosque. Visiting the school is an essential part of visiting Damascus, the oldest inhabited capital in the world.


Haifaa Mafalani