The Amir Taz Palace in Cairo
The Amir Taz Palace, also know as Dar Taz meaning the home of Taz is one of the most well known Mamluk Palaces remaining in historic Cairo. Taz al-Nasiri was at first a Mamluk of the Mohammed Qalaoun army. However, he then rose through the ranks and became the chief of council or Emir Majlis. Amir Taz helped Salah al-Din Salih Mohammed Qalaoun to rise through the ranks and become Sultan in 752 (1351).
In 755, Amir Taz, then Grand Dawidar, was imprisoned only to be released and afterwards made governor of Aleppo. He was sentenced to prison a second time in 759 (1357/8) and yet again released in 762 due to the good relations he held with Yalbugha al-Khassaki.
This palace was built by Amir Taz in 1352 to celebrate his marriage to the Sultan An-Nasir Mohammed's daughter, Khwand Zahra. However, not even his wealth and high rank could save him from falling victim to malicious conspiracies and facing imprisonment on the previously mentioned occasions. For this reason Amir Taz never got a real chance to settle into his establishment. Finally, he was forced to renounce his magnificent palace and travel in search of tranquility and peace of mind away from the city of Cairo. This took him far from the threats he felt surrounding him in Egypt. He lived for some years in Jerusalem and then Damascus before dying in 763.
This ancient palace, along with its significant complex of buildings, annexes and gardens, was built on a huge rectangular plot overlooking a main commercial street named Al-Suyyufiyya and another smaller alley named Darb al Sayh halil. It lies near al-Salibba street and around the corner from Sabil Umm Abbas.
Both the eastern and western sides of the palace are enclosed, giving it a secluded and private atmosphere, while the whole complex is surrounded by a big stone wall keeping all its inner courtyards and quarters out of the sight of passer-bys.
The main entrance is located on Al-Suyyufiyya Street, a central portal richly decorated with stalactites flanked by two secondary arches. Today, only three quarters of the faade and entrance are visible as the street level has been elevated over the years and the lower parts of the structure are now partially buried. The ground floor is occupied by craftsmens shops all along the faade.
Left: An archway in the palace; Right: A painted ceiling within the palace
The western and main entrance was also used as an entrance for carriages. It led directly to the central courtyard, which was also near to the stables of the complex. Though the entrance has similar features to that of the Yeshbak Palace, it has a more simplistic style than the monumental architectural aspects of the luxurious decorative style of the other. The eastern entrance overlooks a rather dim, narrow alley. This entrance is also characteristic for its simplistic architectural style. The detailed and rich decorative ornaments appear only in the interior chambers and courtyard walls of the palace. The inner courtyard of the palace has four entrances, two of which are the original ones. The are located on the east and west sides of the courtyard. In the center lies a large basin which was probably linked to a water well.
During the most recent conservation project, an unexpected discovery of the water supply system was made. This system included a water wheel, aqueducts and cisterns. This system added considerable knowledge to our understanding of water distribution system used at the time. Until this find, little was actually known about this complex matter.
Left: A part of the palace's water delivery system; Right: The actual water wheel within the palace
The loggia or Maqad is accessed from the main courtyard through a magnificent tri-lobed portico with rich masonry decorations. Although the loggia shows grand features of Mamluk style, it is however interesting to note that it was a later Ottoman addition to the palace. It was constructed in the 17th century, nevertheless, it followed the same architectural aspects of the palace as a whole and conserved similar proportions, hence does not stand out as an addition to the palace.
The maqad overlooks the courtyard through four grand arches linked with wooden beams resting on three marble columns topped with impressive Corinthian capitols. The ceiling is beautifully painted, showing remains of gilded decorations and a lower inscription band circulating the three walls of the spaces.
On the first floor is the main qaa which follows the classic traditional design of a central durqa and two opposite side iwans. The three rounded openings of the qaa overlooking the courtyard were probably modified in a later period as the original ones are noticeable.
The qaa is has two entrances; the main one opens onto a marble staircase while the other leads to the private quarters of the establishment and the second level. Many of the rooms and chambers of this huge complex are in good condition and show traces of the original plaster and paintings. The bathrooms on the ground level show a beautiful ceiling, pierced vaulted and flat ceilings with cone shaped colorful glass. This was a very common feature used for illumination and as a means to help evacuate evaporated water.
One of the original ceilings remaining in the palace is that of the north-west iwan in the main qaa; the paintings and decorative elements show Bahri-Mamluk characteristics while the opposite iwan seems to date back to the 15th century as it is in relatively better condition.
The palace was greatly modified at the end of the 19th century when it was transformed into the first Egyptian girls' school during the rule of Ali Pasha Mubarak until its condition deteriorated. Afterwards it was used as a depot for educational supplies and a main storehouse for the Ministry of Education for school textbooks. Also, the courtyard was divided into two parts by a wall that was built in the 19th century.
The palace was badly affected and suffered many structural damages when Cairo suffered an earthquake in 1992. Because this damage was not corrected at the time, some years later, the interiors suffered further damage and the entrance and the qaa overlooking the entrance collapsed. This Mamluk structure has been recently restored to a new dignity from a ruinous state. In doing so, the restoration team left parts of the old masonry and traces of previous changes to the building, testifying to the intricate historic development of this huge complex.
The palace will serve partly as a local community center including training in design and production of traditional carpets, and partly as an historic city museum with display of artifacts, architectural fragments, remains of ancient architectural ornaments and a display of Mamluk history periods.
Left: Detail of the ceiling in the palace; Right: The Mamluk exhibition within the palace
Left: Interior of the palace; Right: A view of one of the palace corridors
The palace will also host musical venues and temporary museum displays.
Left: An exhibit of ancient text; Right: Remains of a minbar on display
A view of the Ceiling in the loggia