Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cairo Islamic Attractions (12), Mosques & Minarets: Complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay

The funerary complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay is an architectural complex built by Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay in Cairo's Northern Cemetery, completed in 1474. It is often considered one of the most beautiful and accomplished monuments of late Egyptian Mamluk architecture, and is pictured on the Egyptian one pound note. 

Al-Ashraf Qaytbay was a mamluk purchased by Sultan al-Ashraf Barsbay (ruled 1422-1438) and served under several Mamluk sultans, the last of whom – Sultan al-Zahir Timurbugha (ruled 1467-1468) – appointed him amir al-kabir, the commander-in-chief or highest position for an amir under the sultan.

Qaytbay's complex contained numerous buildings over a relatively vast area, enclosed by the same wall, of which one gate, Bab al-Gindi, still remains to the south of the mausoleum. Many of the original structures which once faced each other on both sides of the existing street have vanished.  

What remains today is the mosque, which is attached the mausoleum of Qaytbay himself, as well as a maq'ad (loggia), a smaller mosque and mausoleum for Qaytbay's sons, a hod (drinking trough for animals), and a rab' (an apartment complex where tenants paid rent). At one point it was also described to have had large gardens.

The mosque and mausoleum of the sultan forms the main building of the complex and is considered exceptional for its refined proportions and the subdued yet exquisite decorations. The mosque's entrance faces north and diverts the main road slightly eastwards around the walls of the mausoleum, possibly to enhance its visual effect. 

The facade features ablaq stonework (alternating dark and light stone) and the entrance portal is enhanced by a high elaborate groin-vaulted recess with muqarnas squinches.

The minaret stands above the entrance on the western side and is exquisitely carved in stone, divided into three stories with elaborately carved balconies. The eastern corner of the facade is occupied by a sabil (from which water could be dispensed to passers-by) on the ground flooor and by a kuttab (school) with open arches on the top floor. Qaytbay's mausoleum projects from the eastern side of the building, which makes it more visible from the street and allows for more light to reach the interior through northern-facing windows.

The outer dome of the mausoleum demonstrates an evolution from the stone domes built earlier and nearby by Sultan Barsbay and others: it is often cited as the apogee of Mamluk dome design in Cairo due to its complex stone-carved decorative pattern, which features a central geometric star radiating from the apex of the dome and an arabesque floral design which are superimposed and enhanced by natural shadows.

Inside, the vestibule features another ornate groin-vault ceiling and leads to the main sanctuary hall which follows a modified layout of the classic madrasa, with two large iwans on the qibla axis and two shallow or reduced iwans to the sides. The hall is richly decorated in stone-carving, painted wooden ceilings and coloured windows. 

The mihrab is relatively modest but the wooden minbar is richly carved with geometric patterns and inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl. The wooden lantern ceiling above the central space is notable for its carving and painted pattern but is a restoration work and not the original.

The central floor also features elaborate polychrome patterned marble but is usually covered by carpets. The mausoleum chamber is adjacent to the qibla wall and contains the sultan's tomb as well as an alleged footprint of the Prophet Muhammad brought from Mecca, and is decorated with a carved and ablaq mihrab, polychrome marble paneling, and a high dome with muqarnas pendentives.

The Rab'
To the west of Qaytbay's main mosque is a smaller domed tomb which may have been built earlier when Qaytbay was only an amir, but was later dedicated to his sons.  It was later used by a Turkish Sufi named Gulshani during the Ottoman period. The small dome is decorated on the outside in a stone-carved pattern similar to that of the sultan's mausoleum but slightly simpler.  It is part of building described as a madrasa but, like the main mosque whose inscription also identifies it as a "madrasa", it appears to have been just a prayer hall.

To the west of this mausoleum is a maq'ad, which usually denotes a loggia overlooking a courtyard but in this case is an enclosed hall with windows, located over storage rooms and part of a residential area for the sultan and his guests.

Just to the north of the mosque, on the main street, is a hod or drinking trough for animals, with shallow decorative niches along its wall. Further north are the semi-ruined remains of a rab' or apartment complex on the west side of the main street. It is partially buried below street level but its high trilobed entrance portal is still visible.
Images Copyrights to Arch Net
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