The Religious and Funerary Complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Inal
In Cairo's Northern Cemetery
by Jimmy Dunn writing as Ismail Abaza
Inal was once a Mamluk of Sultan Barquq who experienced a distinguished career, rising from Amir Tablkhana (an amir of forty) to governor of Edessa in Syria, chief dawadar and finally to al-amir al-kabir, chief of armies. He finally became Sultan in 1451 at the age of 73, and held this position until the age of 80. His reign was said to be just, prosperous and eventful. The Funerary and Religious Complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Inal is situated to the north of the Khanqah of Sultan Faraj Ibn Barquq in Cairo's Northern Cemetery. It sits on the west side of the road that crosses the cemetery. The eastern facade of this structure is that of a mosque with a groin-vaulted portal. To the portal's left is the single minaret that is not attached, but rather connected to the mains structure by a wall. To the right, also attached to the main structure by only a wall, is the mausoleum. The rectangular base of the dome sits lower than the roof of the mosque. Normally in Mamluk architecture, the base of the minaret and the dome of a mausoleum rise above the roof level, with the exception of the minarets of al-Nasir Muhammad at the Citadel, though only because the mosque was later remodeled. Here also, in the complex of Inal, various sections were built at different times.
The mausoleum dome, which is unimpressive in its proportions, occupies the corner between the eastern and northern facades of the complex. It is built of stone with a zigzag carved pattern. However, its base is adorned with balls of blue glass paste that fill the carved loops. These same balls are also notable on the second story of the minaret of al-Nasir Muhammad's madrasa (Islamic School), and were later added on the mabkhara structures (incense burners that were often a symbol of hospitality) decorating the corners of the facade of the Maridani Mosque. This mausoleum in dated to 1451 when Sultan Inal was only an amir, making it one of the oldest part of the complex. On the left side, the mausoleum is separated from the mosque by an open space.
This northern face of the mosque also has a portal made up of a conch on stalactites, rather than being groin-vaulted. To the right side of the mausoleum on the same alignment is a protruding structure that has been identified as a sabil-kuttab (fountain and elementary boy's school), though the upper structure (kuttab) is lost to us. It probably also dates near to 1451. Still further to the right on the very western edge of the complex, is another building with its own entrance. Its inscription records its function as a khanqah and dates its construction in 1454 AD. By that time, Inal had become Sultan. Though the khanqah is ruined, we can still tell that it was an important foundation, evidenced by its large number of its residential duplexes and associated dependencies, among which are latrines for each duplex that had running water. There are also the remains of a qa'a or hall for gatherings. Because the minaret's base is at the same level as that of the dome's base, it too was probably built in 1451. Its shaft is completely of stone, and lavishly carved which is typical of fifteenth century minarets. In fact, its base is almost completely covered with decorative panels. On the first story, a molding which frames the keel-arched niches runs along its eight facets Between the niches are several colonnettes between carved arabesque designs.
Around the first and second stories of the minaret are three inscriptional bands. The second story of the minaret is where the masons normally show most of their innovations, and here there is carved an interesting design. It is a zigzag pattern, but not applied on a plain circular shaft as usual, but rather the shaft on this level has a section like a multiple-pointed star, its own profile dented like a zigzag, so that the design appears to be three dimensional. Since Inal was still an amir when he built his mausoleum here, and most tombs had a prayer hall attached, there was probably an earlier building situated on the site of the current mosque. The current minaret probably was incorporated into that structure as well, since both the minaret and mausoleum have similar architecture. It is probable that, after Inal became sultan, he added the khanqah and later rebuilt the mosque. A writer named Ibn Iyas explains that the expenses of the complex were taken care of by Amir al-Jamali Yusuf, who also added a zawiya, as in the example of Barsbay's complex. Hence, it must have been a grand complex. The current mosque, built in a modified cruciform plan, itself is designated by its inscriptions as a madrasa, and was apparently one of the last sections of the complex to be built in 1456. It is actually built above a row of rooms that could have been cells for students, but are just as likely to have been storerooms. During the second half of the fifteenth century, large mosques were no longer in fashion.
The inner space of the mosque proper was reduced because the living units were concentrated in an independent structure. Hence, this is a small mosque with two facades, consisting of one on the road and another within a courtyard. This small, inner courtyard is of the type that was usually covered by a wooden dome or lantern and paved with marble, rather than the larger style courtyards that were open and included an ablution fountain in the center. The roofed, cruciform plan is that of the qa'a, or the reception hall, in residential architecture. However, in those structures, the center space was usually taken up by a marble fountain, usually octagonal, like the octagonal lantern above it that protruded above the ceiling of iwans. We see this in the palaces of the Citadel and perhaps other palaces, with domes. Even the large, open courtyards were often covered during the summer midday sun by tenting stretched on ropes. Earlier mosques, such as that of Aslam al-Baha'i (1345) with a cruciform plan had roofed courtyards, but unfortunately, we do not know how many of the mosques with small courtyards were roofed. The prayer niche of the mosque of Inal is made of carved stone and molding comprising a sunrise motif filling the conch. Unfortunately, much of the remaining interior has lost its marble facing.