In Egypt, as in many other Islamic countries, tombs of rulers and dignitaries were often dome-covered mausolea. In the Mamluk period, they were usually parts of a larger complex and were attached to a mosque that was typically endowed as a madrasa. Early domes in Cairo were constructed in brick (in rare cases also in timber), but from the early 15th century on, they were built of stone, the first large-scale examples being those of the khanqa (Sufi convent) of Farag ibn Barquq, some 500 metres north of Sultan Qaitbey’s complex. Here, in the mausoleum of Sultan Qaitbey, the art of Cairene stone dome construction reached its apex, and its elaborate carved decoration is a unique combination of two superimposed patterns, one of geometric and the other of floral motifs. This “fugue in three dimensions” is set over an exceptionally rich scrolled zone-of-transition.
Inside, the soaring dome rises on corner supports of nine-tiered muqarnas niches. This simple, but powerful architectural composition surmounts a cubical chamber sumptuously ornamented in multi-coloured marble, gilding and painting.