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Sultan Qaitbey was one of the few Mamluk rulers who died of natural causes at an old age, and throughout his long reign he was a great patron of architecture. Along with other buildings he erected in the city, this funerary complex is among the most important and artistically significant in Cairo. The stone-built structure once stood at the heart of a very large funerary complex that formed an entire “royal suburb”, of which some parts are still preserved.

The basic plan of this principal building is that of a small cruciform madrasa with a covered central courtyard, typical of late Burgi Mamluk architecture in Cairo. Besides the mosque/madrasa with a minaret, it comprises a domed mausoleum, a hall with additional tomb-chambers facing a separate courtyard at a lower level, and a sabil-kuttab. A richly decorated side entrance led directly to the Sultan’s private quarters.

On the exterior, typically for Mamluk architecture, each element of the façade is regular and formally designed, but these elements are put together in an imaginative, freehand and asymmetrical way. For instance, the imposing entrance portal is not placed in the middle of the façade. Nor does it lead directly to the prayer hall. There is no real distinction between the structural and the ornamental forms. The intricate ornaments are carved directly into the load-bearing masonry. This gives the building an organic feel. The dome of the mausoleum attached to the madrasa is the crowning achievement of the art of carved stone decoration developed in Cairo.

The building, which is open for prayers, was thoroughly restored by the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe in the late 19th century, and then again recently, but it is visibly in need of more work, while its exquisite furnishings have recently been defaced by theft.

 

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