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The Madrasa of Sultan al-Ashraf Barsbay at Cairo


The Ayyubid state in Egypt fell in the year 1250 and the Mamluk state was established on its ruins. the period of Mamluk rule was one of the exciting historical periods in the Arab region and the Islamic world in general and Egypt in particular. It lasted from the thirteenth century to the beginning of the sixteenth century AD, which It imposed its control and extended its territory to the Levant, Iraq, and parts of the Arabian Peninsula for more than two and a half centuries, and that was precisely in the year 1250 AD, when it fell permanently in the battle of Al-Raydaniyah in 1517 AD.

This long period indicates the greatness of this state in the history of the Arab Levant and the Islamic world, and it has reached the pinnacle of its successes represented in confronting the Crusader and Mongol threat, in addition to its control over the reins of affairs prevailing in the state, as the Near East region witnessed radical transformations at all levels, caused by The arrival of the Mamluks, who were slaves of various races, was called white slavery, but thanks to the skill that distinguished them, they were able to form a strong state in their country in which there were strangers.


islamic cairo ,Egypt

The Mamluk state consisted of two families: the naval family and the
tower family, which were ruled by many successors. Sultans, each of whom had a special influence in that country.

Who is he Sultan al-Ashraf Barsbay ?

Al-Ashraf Seif al-Din Barsbay is the thirty-second sultan in the order of sultans of the Mamluk State, and is considered one of the great sultans of the Mamluk State.
Al-Ashraf Barsbay was born in the year 1369, he began his life like thousands of “Mamluks” who were brought to Egypt. Barbsai succeeded in ascending the throne of the Sultanate on the 8th of Rabi’ al-Akhir 825 AH / April 1, 1422 AD. He is the eighth sultan in the order of sultans of the “Circasian Mamluk State,” and the thirty-second in the general ranking of the sultans of the “Mamluk State.”
“Barbsai” did not receive an organized education like many of the “Mamluks” in the citadel. Rather, his education was limited, but he made up for this deficiency by hiring the scholar, jurist, and historian “Badr al-Din al-Aini,”  as a teacher and educator. He would consult with him to read history to him, and then explain it. He taught him Turkish, and the sheikh was well-versed in it, and he also taught him matters of religion.

Sultan Barsbay succeeded during the period he spent in power - which was about seventeen years - in establishing security and stability, eliminating the revolutions and strife that broke out in the country, and striking at the hands of those outside the regime.
Barsbay was one of the mamluks of Sultan Barquq and he served his son Farag.


He became the governor of Tripoli and then a Dawadar during the reign of al-Mu’ayyad. He ascended the throne in 825 A.H./ 1422 A.D. and ruled till his death. His reign is marked with the powerful foreign policy. He conquered Cyprus and forced its king to pay him an annual tribute which Cyprus continued to pay till the end of the Mamluk period. He also turned the trade in pepper and sugar into state monopolies. Barsbay was known as a pious person, fond of learning and an active builder. His most important achievements were this monument and his funerary khanqah in the cemetery.

The Location:

This Madrasa was established by Sultan King Al-Ashraf Barsbay on -MAlu'izz Lidin Allah Al-Fatimi Street at its intersection with Al-Muski Street, which is located north of this soil in the Al-Ashrafieh neighborhood to which it is attributed, and its southeastern side overlooks Al-Hamzawi Al-Saghir Street. I replaced and purchased the land necessary for its construction. Demolition began on the first of the month of Rajab in the year (826 AH/1423 AD). As soon as the iwan of the mihrab was completed, Friday prayers were held there on 7 Jumada al-Awwal in the year (827 AH/1424 AD).

About the madrasa :

The layout of Al-Ashraf Barsbay Madrasa falls under the perpendicular plan, as it consists of a middle courtyard surrounded by four iwans, the largest and most important of which is the south-eastern qibla iwanIt was founded by Al-Ashraf Barsbay, who was one of the Mamluks of Al-Zahir Barquq, who freed him and rose through the ranks until he reached the throne of the Sultanate in 824 AH / 1422 AD.

The facade:  

The main façade is the south-eastern façade . It is divided into recesses with rectangular windows at the lower level and arched windows at the upper level. The entrance is reached by stairs and takes the form of an arched deep recess with stalactites on the top. The sabil and kuttab are located at the southeastern corner of the building, next to the entrance recess. Above the façade we see the minaret next to the dome of the mausoleum and they are both similar to those of the khanqah of Farag ibn Barquq.

 The first story of the minaret is square with a keel-arched recess on each side. The second story is circular with carved interlacing decorations, and it is surmounted with a pavilion carrying the bulb. The dome is relatively small and covered with zigzag decorations.

The interior:  

The entrance is located in the southern corner of the main south-eastern façade. It is of the memorial type with a sunken stone. The entrance is crowned at the top of a pointed muqarnas arch preceded by a staircase with two ends that meet in a single stall surrounded by a courtyard with marble apartments. The entrance is 1.50 meters above ground level and is 1.50 meters high. The width of the entrance apse is (3 m) and its depth is (2 m). It is surrounded on both sides by two marble veils, each of which is 2 m long, its height above the floor of the entrance is 0.8 m, and its width is 0.9 m. Above the veils is an inscription in prominent Mamluk naskh script, which reads: “And the mosques belong to God.” So do not call anyone with God. 

God Almighty has spoken the truth. This blessed school was established by our Lord, the Sultan, the Sultan of Islam and the Muslims, the killer of infidels and polytheists, the eraser of justice in the worlds, the ruler of the Commander of the Faithful, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the King, the Noble King, may God immortalize his kingdom.”

The entrance leads to a derkah, then a corridor that leads to the courtyard. The madrasa is following the cruciform plan with four iwans surrounding the court. The iwans are roofed with flat ceilings. Only the qibla wall is decorated with marble panels. The prayer niche is flanked with two rectangular windows on each side, and each window is set in an arched recess with colored marble decorations. The four windows are surmounted with four arched windows with stucco decorations and colored glass. The iwans are decorated with a band of inscription that is a resumé of the endowment deed and thus an exceptional band of inscription. The mausoleum is small and plain of decorations. It has only one window in the center of its qibla wall instead of a mihrab. The mausoleum contains the tombs of Barsaby’s wife, Fatima, and his son Mohammad.

The courtyard

It is an open, heavenly courtyard with a rectangular area whose floor is lower than the iwans. Its area is (19 x 14.75 m) and it is surrounded by the iwans on its four sides. It has four doors, two on the northern side, the eastern of which leads to the shrine and the second leads to a retreat, and the same on the southeastern side of which opens to the vestibule. The second is to the bathroom, all of which are almost identical, as each of them has a width of (1.75 m) and a height of (2.9 m). It is surmounted by a lintel containing seven cymbals. Above it is an arch that also contains seven cymbals. The doors are all surmounted by arched arches, with a small rectangular window between them.


       The length of this vestibule is (27.9 m) and its width (3.25 m). It is topped with a new wooden ceiling and its floor is made of marble. It has a marble floor and a colored and gilded wooden ceiling resembling the ceiling of the sabil room. To the left of this corridor is a door opening with a wooden shutter topped by a stone lintel, followed by a rectangular window with A veil made of wooden shutters leads to an ascending stairway that ends to the roof of the school. To the right of this door is a decorated doorway tied with a pointed arch, preceded by a wooden veil. To its right is a door opening with a wooden shutter that leads to one of the subsidiary schools. To its right is a door opening leading to a bathroom. Next is a covered window. With a veil of metal grilles, the passage then breaks and ends through a wooden double-leaf door into a courtyard.

Iwan of the Qibla:

        In the eastern side of the courtyard is the Iwan of the Qibla. It is rectangular in shape, with an area of (16.5 x 12.80 metres). Its floor is covered with colored marble, in exquisite geometric designs. It is topped with a wooden ceiling decorated with oil engravings renewed in the Turkish era. It overlooks the courtyard with an arch in the shape of a pointed horseshoe. It extends until its feet end with three rows of pendants, and behind the arch there is a wooden pediment, and in the middle of the south-eastern walls is a mihrab in the form of a semicircular apse, and the apse of the mihrab has a pointed arch resting on two marble columns surmounted by a circular moon. Its cap is decorated with dahlia decorations, and its apse is decorated in the middle with mosaic decoration. Below are the shapes of niches with pointed, broken arches. The niche is surrounded by a strip of Qur’anic writing, the text of which goes from God Almighty’s saying, “We may see the turning of your face in the sky, so We will certainly turn you to a direction that pleases you,” to God Almighty’s saying, “And God is not unaware of what you do.”

       Adjacent to the mihrab on the right is a wooden pulpit, fronted by a door decorated with star plates, and on either side of it are two feathers decorated with star plates and parts thereof. Above it is a preacher’s seat, which is a choir with four wooden columns carrying a conical dome. There is also in this iwan a Qur’an chair whose sides are inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl in the form of assembled fillings that are Star floors, and the ceiling of this iwan was restored by the Committee for the Preservation of Arab Antiquities, and consists of beams with cavernous spaces between them.

        The mihrab is surrounded by four arches, equal in breadth and different in depth, as their depth is the thickness of the qibla wall, which was taken into account to run along the line of the street layout overlooking the school. In the middle of these arches were opened windows overlooking the main façade that was previously mentioned, and they were overlaid. The bows, as well as the walls of the iwan of the qibla up to the height of the mihrab, are covered with colored marble, and above them is a band of inscription, which is the Verse of the Throne, surrounding the walls of the iwan. The writing continues until it ends in the western iwan opposite the iwan of the qibla. In the southwestern side of this iwan is a window opening overlooking the broken corridor. Above it is a plaster window with arches. It is pointed, and on its northeast side is a window overlooking the mausoleum dome. Above it is a plaster window with a pointed arch as well.

The two side iwans:

        As for the two side iwans, they are two similar sashes. The floor of each was paved with colored marble and covered with a ceiling of checkered wooden vaults. Topping each of them is a doorway with a triple arch, at the bottom of which is a rectangular window, and at the top is a window with a pointed arch covered by a veil of plaster stained with colored glass.

Mausoleum dome:

        The dome is on the sea side and can be accessed from a door in the courtyard, and from the khawkha of the sea-copper window of the eastern iwan. In front of its entrance is a small iwan, on the front of which is a veil of lathe wood. A veil of lathe wood has been erected over its entrance, on which is written: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Every soul will taste death, but you will be paid your wages on the Day of Resurrection.” Resurrection. Whoever moves away from the Fire and enters the state of Jannah has won.” The shrine consists of a square with a side length of (6.5 m9). Each side of the square has an opening, three of which are windows arched with pointed, rectangular arches, the northern of which overlooks Al-Sikka Al-Jadidah Street, and the eastern on the facade overlooks Al-Sikka Al-Jadeeda Street. Al-Mu'izz, which was previously mentioned, and the third overlooks the iwan of the qibla.

 As for the fourth side, there is a door leading to the darqa that precedes the shrine. Above the lower windows are other arched chandelier windows filled with perforated plaster and stained with colored glass. The corners of the square are filled with a transition area with seven pendants of pendants standing above them. The neck of the dome is surmounted by a lobed dome with a pointed section and a copper crescent above it.