As Crusaders forces ruthlessly pillaged the Aleppine countryside in the 12th century AD, the ruler of Aleppo converted the ancient Great Cathedral of Saint Helena into a mosque as a means of passive revenge. The 6th century cathedral, which had been erected over the original cathedral built by Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, had also encompassed the current Omayyad Mosque. In fact the Mosque grounds had been the cathedral's vast courtyard and gardens, which in turn had been the site of the Agora of Beroea, Graeco-Roman Aleppo. The Cathedral structure itself lay immediately to the west, where Madrassa Halawiya and its courtyard now stand, but much like every other religious structure in Aleppo, the site had previously also been occupied by successive pagan temples, Roman, Hellenistic and Semitic. Soon after the construction-coversion into a mosque, the ruler of Aleppo, Nureddine, turned the mosque into a madrassa (theological school), hence its current name, but at present it only functions as a mosque. Remarkably, the structure survives to this day with building stones showing Byzantine crosses (see attached photos), while the striking interior follows a church-like plan complete with a rounded apse and supported by beautiful 6th century Corinthian columns. The capitals of these columns are decorated with carved acanthus leaves bending to the side, similar in design to column capitals also seen at Saint Simeon's Church. This church-mosque fusion is rather astonishing and might even confuse the visitor, and on a much smaller scale remind of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
This now-dilapidated theological college used to be the 6th century Cathedral of St Helen upon whose gardens the Great Mosque (Al Jamaa al-Kebir) was built. It is said that for hundreds of years, the mosque and the cathedral stood side by side in harmony until in 1124 when Muslims, responding to the Crusades, raided the church and converted it to a madrassa (Islamic school).
Today, the building is in a state of disrepair and badly needs restoration. The only remaining element of the cathedral is the prayer hall, which has been incorporated into the madrassa's design.
A madrassa i liked for its simple architecture, and for the delicate ornaments of the main door. As far as I know it's not possible to visit inside, which I regretted a bit, since part of it it's built over the ruins of a 6th century christian cathedral dedicated to Saint Helen. i reallywished I could have seen how they had combined the structure of the two buildings into one, but alas! no luck! Next time maybe...
This madrassa, or theological college, was built in 1245 on the site of the 6th century St. Helen's Cathedral.