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The kuttab was an elementary Qur’anic school where young children learnt to read and write. Some of these schools were endowed as charities to teach children, usually orphans, for whom tuition fees could not be paid. In Cairo, almost uniquely, such schools were placed on the upper floor over a room housing another charity – a sabil from which free drinking water was distributed through grilles in huge windows. The kuttab typically had the form of an open loggia with arches supported on columns or pillars. The sabil-kuttab combination was attached to larger religious complexes and was usually placed at a corner of a building, so as to be cooled by breezes coming through the open sides. There were hundreds of such charities in mediaeval and then Ottoman Cairo. About seventy still survive.

 

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