4.4.10 Other public building complexes

Hammans (baths): These could be constructed as part of a palace complex or as an independent structure. They usually had central courtyards or, perhaps more commonly, central domed rooms, for changing e.g. Hamman al-Sultan, Damascus (Syria). Very few excavated or researched plans are available and it is difficult to isolate any key characteristics that would be evident on the aerial images.

Libraries: What would the famous libraries of Merv have looked like? Many libraries were integral parts of mosque complexes, for example the Al-Masjid Al-Jame'a at Merv (Dohaish 1987, 219). There were also libraries associated with colleges and madrasas, and astronomical observatories: for example, Dar al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), Baghdad, which was founded in AD 830 by the caliph al-Ma'mum (Monastra 1995, 2). Public libraries are also well attested: at Merv, for example, there was the Nizammiyah Library, founded by Nizam Al-Mulk in the 11th century, and the Aziziyah Library, founded by Aziz Al-Din in the 12th century (Elayyan 1990, 124).

Unfortunately, there is little information about the appearance of these structures. They must have been substantial buildings, but it is unlikely that they can be easily differentiated on the aerial images from other large complexes with substantial courtyards.

District reservoirs: Another complicating factor is the presence of large district reservoirs which are known to have existed in Merv as part of the well-organised urban water supply system (Bartold 1965, 147; Williams forthcoming). Their size may have ranged between 50 and 100m in diameter. One of these has been partially excavated, revealing a width of 54m and a depth in excess of 2.8m (Khodjaniasov 1992, 27). These features are likely to appear on the aerial images as large open spaces/courtyards, covering perhaps in excess of c. 3,000m² (Fig. 24).

Monument groupTotal area (m²)Courtyard area (m²)% courtyard of total
Friday Mosques10,000 to 37,0004,500 to 18,000c. 42-50%
Dār al-'Imārah11,0001,000c. 10%
Neighbourhood mosquesNo data--
District reservoirs (appear as open spaces)3,000 to 10,0003,000 to 10,000c. 100%
Rural Caravanserais/khāns/funduqs2,500 to 7,500750 to 2,200c. 25-30%
Urban Caravanserais/khāns/funduqs1,330130c. 10%
Madrasas1,700 to 3,500300 to 575c. 15-25%
Domestic houses  less than 100 

Figure 24: Range of scales of courtyard spaces within communal and domestic buildings. The overall size of the courtyards is compared to their relative scale within the building complex as a whole. (Data primarily based upon measurements derived from illustrations in Hillenbrand 1994, using examples from the region and of similar date).

Dār al-'Imārah ('house of government'): These substantial government complexes were normally situated close to the central mosque. At Kufa, Iraq, for example, the Dār al-'Imārah was built in AD 670 and positioned south of the Great Mosque (Creswell 1989, 10-15; Hillenbrand 1994, 391-2). The earliest complex was 114m square, with a gateway on the north side, and had 20 square towers, four of which were at the corners, in a style very similar to Sasanian fortresses. The Dār al-'Imārah was divided into thirds on a north-south axis, with a central courtyard located in the northern half of the middle section. The palace included an arrangement of rooms around various sized smaller courtyards, and a throne room with a vaulted corridor.

At Merv, historical sources state that the governor, Abu Muslim, commissioned a mosque and Dār al-'Imārah to be constructed alongside the Madjan canal (Kennedy 1999, 30). We know little about this complex, but it is likely that it was of a similar plan and location to that at Kufa. Examination of the plans of the large complexes at the centre of the town is necessary.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s) URL:
Last updated: Mon Sept 29 2008