A research project was designed to explore aspects of the methodology of urban archaeology in Beirut. It focuses on the investigation of important, but thus far neglected, phases of the city's history: the Mamluk and Ottoman periods.

A Mamluk Ribat in Beirut

The small domed sanctuary on Souk Tawile is today the only standing late Mamluk monument in the city. It links the visible with the invisible, the known with the unknown, the surviving with the buried.

The 16th-century historian Ibn Tulun originally describes this sanctuary as a Mamluk house and ribat, or hospice. It was built by the religious authority and Sufi Ibn 'Iraq al- Dimashqi for his followers. The building continued to play the role of a private madrasa or zawiya, where Islamic law, jurisprudence and theology were taught. A zawiya was often the converted house of the teacher or founder. Many madrasas in Lebanon's Mamluk capital Tripoli were endowed by their founders who were buried in a domed mausoleum forming part of the building. This is attested by inscriptions identifying the name of the founder and interesting details of the endowment of land, property, shops and industries which assured the continued upkeep and function of such establishments.

No inscription has as yet been found in or around the Beirut zawiya. Ibn 'Iraq left his house in Beirut in 923 AH (1517) for the pilgrimage. He died in Mecca in 933 AH (1526) and was buried in the Bah al- Ma'alla cemetery of that city. News of his death was received with sorrow in Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus.

Teaching in madrasas took place in iwans or wide arched spaces often opening on to a courtyard. The teacher faced his students grouped around him in a circle or halqa. Rooms for students and visiting scholars were provided. The extention of the Beirut zawiya is still not fully known. Investigating the original plan, and the changes affecting it during its long history of occupation, will inhance our understanding of this type of Mamluk architecture. The surviving domed chamber of the zawiya was probably intended as a mausoleum and is said to have housed the tomb of a member of the Bundaq family, a follower of the founder. The large arch in the eastern facade of the building suggests a courtyard or garden in front of it. Excavations in this area have revealed an open space with evidence for associated activities.

Archaeological investigation near the ribat of Ibn 'Iraq al-Dimashqi offers valuable information on the occupations and standards of living of the people in the city at the time.

The building continued to function as a zawiya until it was eventually incorporated into the late Ottoman souk.

The excavation near the sanctuary provided ample evidence of continuous re-use of earlier builclings. An intricate system of water supply, including wells and cisterns, and a workshop for silk production were recovered. The excavation also revealed that the souks were built over an earlier artisans' quarter incorporating a series of workshops.


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