History

 

Dr. Gesink's Image Gallery Page 6

MAMLUK ARCHITECTURE

     


Dome of Sultan Faraj ibn Barquq's Mausoleum-Khanqah, 1400-1411 (Aga Khan MIT Visual Archive).  The Burgi Mamluk Sultan Faraj ibn Barquq laid his father to rest here in Cairo's Northern Cemetery, near the tombs of the Sufis and Barquq's father, Anas, as the old Sultan had wished.  This mausoleum-khanqah complex is still intact - its two domes, minarets, and enclosure wall have stood for approximately 500 years.  (A khanqah is a lodge for Muslim mystics, or Sufis - this khanqah housed 40 Sufis.) The stone dome is one of the characteristic features of Mamluk architecture - the very earliest Mamluk mosques (such as that of the Sultan al-Zahir Baybars, 1266-1269) had domes made out of wood, but these did not last very long, and later Sultans chose to construct their domes out of stone bricks, naturally a more durable material.  Many of the more spectacular Mamluk domes were carved on the outside to produce patterns such as that shown above, but many were also left smooth.  Some were simply covered with stucco to hide the bricks.  This dome and its twin are the largest stone domes in Cairo, with diameters of over 46 feet/14 meters. Another characteristic feature of the Mamluk buildings is the crenellation that is just barely visible at the bottom of this picture. 

     

 

Interior view of the dome of Sultan Faraj ibn Barquq's Mausoleum-Khanqah complex (Aga Khan MIT Visual Archive).   As with the exteriors of the domes, the interiors were also sometimes left plain.  This one is covered with fine marble inlaid with red and black paste.  Note also the use of muqarnas, or stalactites, as a transitionary device (one can see these also in Safavid mosques). As is usual for Egyptian mosques with decorative interiors, eye-level ornamentation in this mausoleum is simple, while decoration of the ceiling is relatively ornate, so that the viewer's attention is drawn upward, towards heaven. 

     
Mosque-Mausoleum Complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay, 1472-1474. According to Doris Behrens-Abouseif: "The architecture of this period was not gigantic but tended rather to refinement of proportions, and it was a golden age for stone carving...Compared to architecture during the reign of al-Nasir Muhammad, the style of the Qaytbay period was more homogenous, undisturbed by new ideas, foreign elements and daring innovation.  It was a period of consolidation rather than of innovation" (Islamic Architecture in Cairo, 144).

Notice in particular the elegant proportions of this mosque.  The domed mausoleum is balanced by a soaring, finely-carved minaret.  The structure on the front left corner of the building is a sabil-kuttab; the sabil, or water-well, is located on the ground floor for ease of public access.  Open grilled windows allowed wind to pass through, keeping the water cool.  The kuttab, or Qur'an school, was located on the balconied upper floor.  This design of sabil-kuttab is common in Egypt.

     
Mosque-Mausoleum Complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay, Dome (Aga Khan MIT Visual Archives).

Note the geometric star pattern on the dome and the design of the crenellations. The "Mamluk star" pattern was first used on flat surfaces, so applying it to the curved surface of a dome and the decreased surface area of the apex required solving some interesting mathematical problems.  Although earlier domes demonstrate successful application of the pattern, some of them appear crowded or inconsistent at the apex. Qaytbay's stonemasons solved these problems using a innovative pattern that centered on the apex rather than radiating upward from the base as in previous domes.  Qaytbay's dome is considered to represent the apex of Mamluk dome decoration. Click on image to see how the carvers filled in the star design with arabesque patterns. 

     
Mosque of Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay, interior view of octagonal skylight (Greg Gesink 1996). Note the use of the Mamluk star design on this flat surface.
     
 

Panorama of Mamluk Monuments in the Northern Cemetery  

(Indira Gesink 1996) 

     

 
Postcard demonstrating classic features of Mamluk Mosque Architecture: carved stone dome, alternation of red-and-white stone to produce a striped effect, crenellations.

     
Mosque of Bahri Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad (1318-1335): Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad's mosque is the oldest mosque in Cairo's Citadel.  Unlike the Burgi Mamluk mosques, which seem almost as if their creators were conforming to an accepted model of "Mamluk style," this mosque seems instead to be setting precedent.  Here we see crenellations, but of a different design.  The columns are "borrowed" from earlier buildings (some of them of different ceiling heights).  The classic Mamluk striped stonework has a rough, unfinished appearance.  The original dome was wood covered with green tiles.  

(Indira Falk 1996)

The qibla wall of the mosque - that is, the wall the faces Mecca and contains the mihrab niche that indicates the direction of prayer - is decorated with inlaid marble in the classic Mamluk striping.  The minbar (pulpit) next to the mihrab is mashrabiyyah work with panels done in the Mamluk star pattern, but I do not know if it is an original piece or a later addition. That's my dad, Arthur Falk, in the black suit.
The information about al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque is chiefly from Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Islamic Architecture in Cairo (AUC Press, 1989), 108-110.
 
     
Sultan Hasan Madrasah, Cairo, Egypt (1356-1361)  (Indira Falk 1996)
 
 
     

Madrasah-Khanqah of Burgi Mamluk Sultan Barsbay, 1432
This structure, which is in Cairo's Northern Cemetery, was intended to house 10 Sufis, 4 of whom were students in the madrasah.  The stone dome is carved with a classic Mamluk pattern of interlocking stars (sometimes called the "Mamluk star" or "Mamluk rose" pattern).  The minaret is a more recent Ottoman era addition.

 
 
 
 
     

 
Fort of Sultan Qaytbay in Alexandria (former site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World)
(Indira Falk 1996)
     

Copyright 1999 Indira Falk Gesink

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