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The Complex of Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun at Cairo ,Egypt


The Sultan Mansur Qalawun Complex is considered the beginning of the emergence of a new architectural style, which is known as architectural complexes that include more than one architectural unit for different purposes. This complex consists of a shrine, a madrasa, and a bimaristan

Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun and his complex:

He established the complex of Al-Mansur Qalawun, and sultan Al-Mansur Qalawun took over the rule of Egypt in the period between (1277-1290 AD). He is sultan Al-Mansur Saif Al-Din Qalawun Al-Alfi Al-Ala’i. He was originally from the Mamluks of Al-Salih Najm Al-Din Ayyub, and therefore he was known as Al-Salihi Al-Najmi. He was a gallant hero, victorious in his wars, and had many fights and incidents with him. The Tatars and others were victorious in it, so his prestige increased and his influence extended.

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 He conquered some countries and some kings made truces to him. During his days, many buildings were built and he had luxurious monuments, including the Madrasa, the Mansouriya Dome, and the Marstan. Many of the columns and marble of Rawda Castle were included in the architecture of these buildings, and the historians of his era praised him for his softness. He was forbearing and fair, but he was sometimes cruel and treacherous when interests called for him. In the year (689 AH / 1277 AD) King Al-Mansur Qalawun died at the age of seventy years.

He followed the steps of Baybars by protecting Egypt from the threats of the crusades and fought the Mongols and conquered them in Homs city. He also followed him in establishing commercial and diplomatic relations with neighboring countries. Moreover, he paid attention to construction as he renovated the forts on the borders and built his great complex in the heart of the capital to reflect the wealth and power of his reign. His complex is considered one of the most outstanding monuments of medieval Cairo architecture. It was built in Bayn al-Qasrayn on the site of the western Fatimid palace, facing the madrasa of al-Salih Ayyub. This site was originally occupied with a large hall for Sit al-Mulk; the sister of the caliph al-Hakim. After the Fatimid era, the hall was known as the house of Fakhr al-Din Jaharkas. Later it was owned by Ahmad ibn alc adil and inhabited by Mo’nesa Khatun the daughter of alc adil who was known as al-Qutbiyya. Qalawun built the house from her and gave her a palace in addition to money, and ordered his madrasa to be built on the site in 682 A.H./ 1283 A.D

The complex included a madrasa, a mausoleum, and a hospital. It was erected within only eleven or thirteen months, which is an astonishing speed for a monument of such dimensions (13 months). The supervisor of the construction, emir Sanjar alShujac i, used hundreds of Mongol prisoners and forced all builders in Fustat and Cairo to work extensively on the project.

The Location:

This complex is located on Al-Mu'izz Lidin Allah (Al-Nahhasin) Street. It was built on a patch of land from the small western Fatimid palace. The group is located on the western side of the street, and the school and the shrine were separated by a corridor that leads directly to the Bimaristan in the back.

The façade: 

The external architecture of this archaeological complex consists of a single facade in the southeastern side on Al-Mu'izz Lidin Allah Street, which is divided into two parts, one protruding from the zenith of the other. The right part - which represents the facade of the shrine - includes eight entrances in each - except for the two entrances at the bottom of the minaret - three windows on top of each other. 

The lower one consists of rectangles covered with bronze gratings, and the middle one consists of other rectangles covered with stucco stained with colored glass as well. This façade is crossed along its length above the level of the lower windows by a transverse band of foundational inscriptions in the Mamluk Kalabir naskh script, interspersed with many decorative breaks that read in short.

The complex of Qalawun is marked by an impressive facade of about 70m. Approaching from the south, from al-Azhar Street, the madrasa appears first. At the corner, the building line retreats from street and turns left into the main entrance of the complex and on its right is the façade of the mausoleum.The treatment of the facade was new for its time, as it was divided into several vertical recesses. The lower part of each recess is flanked by 2 marble columns with pre-Islamic capitals and the upper part of each recess has a pointed arch. The recessed panels include three tiers of windows, giving the building the appearance of having three stories. The lower windows are large and rectangular with iron grills, the middle windows are smaller and pointed, and the upper windows are double windows with round arches separated by a column and surmounted by a small circular window.

The madrasa:

The foundation inscription slab above the entrance of the complex mentioned that the construction was started in Rabic II of 683 and was completed in Jumada I of 684 A.H.2 The entrance of the complex leads to a long corridor which contains the entrance of the madrasa on the left and the entrance of the mausoleum to the right.

The madrasa consists of an open courtyard, which is a rectangular, unroofed area on the north-eastern side, including small rooms that represented retreats for the student students. Above them are two other floors that were reached by a staircase in the northern corner of this courtyard. There is also an upper floor above the large vestibule that preceded the upper retreats. This courtyard is surrounded by two iwans, one of which in the south-eastern side is a rectangle divided into three bays, the widest of which is in the middle. Its arches run perpendicular to the qibla wall. It is an extended semi-circular one supported on pillars of pink granite. It has Corinthian capitals surmounted by wooden cushions on which rest the legs of the arches supported by wooden ties. It is worth noting that the flat roof of this iwan is not from the construction era because it dates back to the nineteenth century.

The madrasa originally consisted of a courtyard with two principal iwans and two smaller ones or two recesses called “suffa”. Between the iwans were the students' cells on several stories. When Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda restored the complex, he replaced the southern recess by the present triple-arched shallow recess. The open courtyard contained a lobed fountain that originally belonged to the Western Fatimid palace. The largest of the four iwans is the qibla iwan which has a new type of façade, with a triple arch supporting a second story of arches.


This important architectural complex was joined at the eastern end of the façade of the shrine overlooking Al-Mu'izz Street, by a minaret consisting of three storys, the first and second with square bodies, while the third has a cylindrical body. This minaret is crowned by a dome that is not from the construction era, because Al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun had built it. In the year 703 AH, this minaret was rebuilt after it fell as a result of the earthquake that occurred in the year 702 AH. The arches of the first and second cycles of this minaret were decorated with border-shaped decorations with muqarnas cornices. As for the third cycle, it was decorated with a number of arches with prominent decorations, and above the inner door of the dome. There is an inscription in the Mamluk Naskh script.

The hospital of Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun (maristan) 

In its time, the complex of Qalawun was famous for its hospital or the maristan. Muslims used the Persian word "bimaristan" for their hospitals, it means "place of health". The maristan of Qalawun was not the first in Cairo as Ahmad Ibn Tulun, the Fatimids and Salah al-Din also built hospitals. Qalawun had fallen ill with colic in Damascus and was successfully treated there at the famous maristan of Nur Al-Din. He vowed that if he recovered, he would build a similar hospital in Cairo. Qalawun's maristan was famous because it continued its function as a charitable institution and center for studies and practice of medicine until the nineteenth century when modern medicine and hospitals were introduced by Mohammad Ali. Qalawun's maristan was remarkable for its time because it provided medical attention, food and accommodation, free of charge to patients of either  regardless of age, social class, religion or nationality. 

The mausoleum:

 The mausoleum is the best-preserved part of the complex and is considered one of the most beautifully decorated buildings in Cairo. It is reached from a small courtyard surrounded by an arcade roofed with shallow domes (Byzantine influence). In the middle of the courtyard there was a fountain. The entrance from the courtyard to the rectangular hall of the mausoleum is in the form of an arch surrounded with rich decorations carved in stucco. In the hall, a central dome rests on an octagonal structure (like the dome of the Rock), composed of two pairs of piers alternating with two pairs of columns.