by Lara Iskander
The narrow Azhari ally leading to Harat El Madarsa. At the far end is Al-Ayini Mosque
The small facade of El-Harrawi House
El-Harrawi House built in 1731 by Ahmed Ben Youssef El -Serafi is considered to be one of the fine examples of the Islamic houses representing the Ottoman era. It is named after its last owner, Abd El-Rahman El-Harrawi, who was the Hakim (Doctor) of Qasr El-Ayini Medical School.
1. Harrawi House, 2. Al Ayni Mosque, 3. Zeinab Khakoun House, 4. Ghanimiyya Hall and 5. Sitt Wasila House.
The house is located in the heart of a well known quarter in Cairo. Behind the Azhar Mosque, in Darb EL-Ahmar area, El-Harrawi is situated between two narrow Haraa (Alleys), Harat Al Madrasa and Zuqaq Al Ayini. Several other Islamic houses and monuments are found in the Darb El-Ahmar surroundings. The house has a common wall with Sitt Wasila house (i.e.Lady Wasila) (17th century). It is adjacent to the house of Zeinab Khatoun (15th, 17th century), and to the Ghannamiah Hall (14th century). Also at a near distance is Al-Ayini Mosque (15th century).
The entrance to the secondary Qa'a on the ground floor
The open yard and the Mashrabeyya of the main "Qa'a" on the first floor; Above:
El-Harrawis main entrance is through Zuqaq al-Qasr ally but its no longer used. In spite of its importance, the house has a relatively small street faade.
The southern faade is especially remarkable because of its height and a quite impressive large wooden Masshrabeyya indicating the presence of a Qaa (i.e. Large Hall) on the first floor.
The interior of the secondary "Qa'a" on the ground floor
The secondary entrance used nowadays was a later addition that dates back to the 19th century, it is located right next to Sitt Wasila House. As you enter through the southern door, a long corridor leads you into the courtyard which is an open-air area controlling the entrance to all parts of the house.
What is noticeable is the absence of a secondary space or porch called "Maguaz", which was one of the important Islamic design concepts used in order to conceal the interior of the house and mainly the women living in it. This tradition became less strict in the late 18th century.
The Mandara hall, showing the wooden ceiling
An example of the built-in cupboards in the hall
One of the main attractions of El-Harawi is the "Mandara", a spacious sitting hall on the ground floor that occupies all the East wing of the house. The "Mandara" served as Male-guests reception area, a space that is quiet common in Islamic Houses. Traditionally, the "Mandara" was designed in a manner consisting of three specific halls. The entrance to this hall is always through the middle section called the "Durqaa", where you find an octagonal fountain decorated with mosaic pieces. The marble flooring and geometrical designs of the "Durqaa" are exceptional.
The location of the central fountain in the Mandara Hall
A three dimensional model of the house interior
Two "Iwan(s)" (i.e. hall) surround the fountain where one was always at a higher level so that the Master of the house could sit there in the middle of his guests. The ceiling ornamented with painted drawings and the walls-built-in cupboards in various colors distinguish those two "Iwans".
Fountains, which were always the center of the "Qaa" were an essential element in Islamic building due to several reasons. During those times, spying was very common and its believed that fountains and the noise of running water was a way to prevent curious spies from overhearing what was being said between others. The fountain was also an important design concept functioning as a natural method for cooling air during hot summer days.
The main staircase leading to the upper floors
The first floor main Qa'a
On the first floor, the main Qaa occupies the southern part of the house. The predominant widely spread color is blue, which gives an astonishingly wonderful artistic combination The ceiling of this hall is considered evolutionary in the construction methods and the decorations. The first floor mainly consists of the private rooms, reached by unique stairs in the eastern side of the yard.
Just a few walls still remain on the second floor, only the rooms above the Mandara still stand intact.
This house is one of a few that remained in good shape over the years because it was restored several times by the French Comite de Conservation between 1920 and 1950 The Comite de Conservation are known to have worked on many other Islamic monuments in Cairo. A French architect, Bernard Maurey under the supervision of the French Institute of Oriental Archeology has lately restored it. At the moment it is been reused as a Cultural Center where different cultural events, lectures musical gala and artistic expositions take place.
Lara Iskander works restoring Islamic monuments in Cairo, Egypt