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Tripoli: Al Bortassi Mosque

TIt is a historic town, this Tripoli of Lebanon, one which has known waves of conquerors who saw themselves as civilizers. They have been coming since earliest antiquity, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Fatimids, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans, and finally the Europeans. All these have left something behind, temples, churches, mosques, citadels and ports.

Of such monuments the mosque of Al-Bortassi first attracts our attention. In Arabic a mosque is called Jamaa, meaning a meeting-place and expressing the same idea as ecclesia, church or assembly. The mosque is a place where people meet together, assemble, and then pray together. In every religion and sect there is a need to come together as a congregation, so there must be some sort of sacred building. And here we have the Al-Bortassi mosque, situated in the district known as Bab al-Hadeed, the Portal of Iron.

It stands by the river Abu Ali, which runs through the old northern part of Tripoli. Many travelers have referred to it and described it. Al-Atifeh said, “There is a mosque known as Al-Bortassi. From the door through which one enters up to the mihrab (the preacher’s seat or cathedra) there is marble running round which fascinates the visitors who contemplate it. The same goes for the faces of the walls. The ceiling of arcades inlaid with colored stones like so many stars gives the place a poetic aspect.”

One notices a basin of water set with a multicolored mosaic, helping to make this one of the most beautiful mosques of Tripoli, where one can see Byzantine, Fatimid, Moroccan and Andalusian influence, and as for the mihrab, it is without any doubt one of the most beautiful of those to be seen in Mameluke mosques anywhere. It is decorated with golden mosaic showing floral designs and with crossings constructed with marble of a variety of colors. Its mizinat bears imprints from the Ommayads, Andalusians and even Moroccans. It is held together by a carved chain, an architectural masterpiece, and surrounded by recesses for students of the Ash-Shafiyi community.

The name of the founder of this mosque is indicated on an inscribed stone on which one may read, “In the name of God the Merciful and Loving-kind, I offer as an endowment (waqf) this blessed school, I, Issa ben Omar al-Bortassi (with the date equivalent to 1310 A.D.); may God pardon me and all those engaged in noble studies in the community of the Imam ash-Shafiyeh, and may there be prayers and assemblies, on the one condition that no place is given to those having no right.”

The lines speaking of the construction of the mosque, the period and the date, have been erased. We do not even know for certain the exact year of its construction but historians by their researches taking into consideration the style of decoration, the aspects and structures, put it at the end of the period of the Mameluke mariners, with the actual building having gone on from 1250 to 1382 A.D..

Doctor Omar Padmouri estimates that the mosque was built around 1310 A.D., the year 710 of the Muslim Hegira, according to the stone inscribed with the name of Issa ben Omar al-Bortassi al-Kurdi. This was a Kurd who had the title of Emir and was said to be one of the Altabkhamat princes. This information is not to be found in the carved inscription, although the title is such as is to be found in the inscriptions of mosques everywhere.

The Al-Bortassi mosque of Tripoli is truly worth visiting and draws the admiration of all the well-informed tourists.

Joseph Matar
Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

- Al Bortassi Mosque: >> View Movie << (2012-01-01)



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