In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Ayyubid dynasty brought unprecedented architectural development to Aleppo, the most important city in medieval Syria. While early Islamic empires usually expressed their grandeur by founding new cities with vast extra-urban palaces, the Ayyubids asserted their power by “modernizing” existing towns. With its large, well-preserved citadel and a wide variety of pious institutions, Aleppo is the ideal subject for Yasser Tabbaa’s study of the pan-Islamic transformation in urban architecture.

Tabbaa argues that the intense palatial and religious architectural activity of the period was intended to create a royal image of the Ayyubid state while also fostering links between it and the urban population. His study is based on an entirely new evaluation of the architectural and epigraphic aspects of the standing monuments of the period. It presents for the first time full photographic coverage of these monuments, as well as many new plans and other renderings, and pays close attention to monumental inscriptions, correcting and augmenting previous studies.

The book utilizes the full panoply of the available literary sources, including topographies, chronicles, travel accounts, and poetry. The juxtaposition of thorough architectural analysis and keen evaluation of literary sources sheds new light on nearly all aspects of this architecture: its links with the city, its place within Ayubbid patronage, its role in the prevalent sectarian rivalry in the city, and, perhaps most important, its function as the propagator of royal power and integrator of this power within the urban population. At a time when Arabic poetry and court culture had lost much of their earlier resonance, Tabbaa finds that these architectural institutions contributed to the creation of a later medieval Islamic culture, one more closely tied to the grandeur of monuments than to the eloquence of ideas.

Author : Yasser Tabbaa

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