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Manzil Zeinab Khatoun in Cairo, Egypt


Manzil Zeinab Khatoun

by Lara Iskander

1 Harrawi House, 2. Al Ayni Mosque, 3. Zeinab Khakoun House, 4. Ghanimiyya Hall and 5. Sitt Wasila House.

While walking through the narrow alleys of Islamic Cairo, one is bound to cross several old Ottoman and Mamluk Houses apart from the many monumental Mosques and Madrasas (schools). Though many of those houses have disappeared over the years, some were conserved and restored by the French Conservation Committee of Arab Art during the 1900s which realized the importance of the survival of those great architectural assets.


Most of those houses - called in Arabic "Manzil" or "Bait"- had the same architectural design composed usually of a central open courtyard around which the rest of the house chambers are distributed, including the main spaces such as the "Salamlik" (mens quarters) and the "Haramlik" (womens quarters).

Top right: 1 Harrawi House, 2. Al Ayni Mosque, 3. Zeinab Khakoun House, 4. Ghanimiyya Hall and 5. Sitt Wasila House.

Right: View of Zeinab Khatoun House's Street facade from al-Azhari Alley.

Below center: First floor architectural plan of Manzil Zeinab Khatoun.


View of Zeinab Khatoun House's Street facade from al-Azhari Alley.

View of Zeinab Khatoun House's Street facade from al-Azhari Alley.


Manzil Zeinab Khatoun is one of the most remarkable houses left nowadays. Named after its last owner, as was the custom for Islamic houses in those days, it occupies a distinguished location at the back of Al-Azhar Mosque in "Atfet El-Azhary" (Azhary alley) in Darb Al-Ahmar district, once the finest and richest neighborhood of Islamic Cairo. Also found opposite the house is a well-known monument, Al-Ayni Mosque and at nearby distance, two other important houses, Bait El-Harrawi and Bait Sitt Wasila.

First floor architectural plan of Manzil Zeinab Khatoun.

First floor architectural plan of Manzil Zeinab Khatoun.


It is difficult to place the exact date in which this house was built as there is no real information about its background and previous owner but from the architectural style and decorations of the Manzil, its believed to have been built during the times of Sultan Qaitbay (King Qaitbay) in the end of the 14th Century.

Entrance to Zeinab Khatoun showing the only Mashrabeyya on the exterior facade.


Entrance to Zeinab Khatoun showing the only Mashrabeyya on the exterior facade.


Unlike the usual rich house facades found during those times, this one presents us with a more simple stone faade with small windows missing the presence of the luxurious wooden Mashrabeyya windows originally meant for passers-by to admire and recognize the Bourgeoisie class residence, providing protection from the sunrays and offering privacy.

The only Mashrabeyya present now on the street faade above the entrance seems to be a later addition used to watch the on-going street activities and any visitors coming into the house.

To the right of the entrance space is another smaller room called "Maguaz" nearly always found in old Islamic Houses which has a function of preserving the privacy of the household from curious eyes. Two other separate chambers are accessed through the "Maguaz", both mens quarters probably used to attend to business affairs away from the house activity.

Above right: Entrance to Zeinab Khatoun showing the only Mashrabeyya on the exterior facade. Below left: View of the Mashrabeyya of the Harem Qa'a on the first floor. Below right: View of the staircase leading to the Maq'ad.


View of the Mashrabeyya of the Harem Qa'a on the first floor.


View of the Mashrabeyya of the Harem Qa'a on the first floor


View of the staircase leading to the Maq'ad.


View of the staircase leading to the Maq'ad.


The Mandara wooden screen seen from the inside of the hall.

The Mandara wooden screen seen from the inside of the hall


Below, on the ground floor is another Mashrabeyya screen behind which lies the mens quarters, "Salamlik"or the "Mandara"(sitting room). Usually the "Mandara" had a middle section of a slightly raised area specially arranged and decorated for the Master of the house to be seated in the middle of his guests elevated in a position of honor.

Staircase leading to the main Qa'a on the first floor.

Staircase leading to the main Qa'a on the first floor.

The two arches of the Maq'ad (balcony) looking on to the Hash.

The two arches of the Maq'ad (balcony) looking on to the Hash.


Top right: The Mandara wooden screen seen from the inside of the hall.

Left: Staircase leading to the main Qa'a on the first floor.

Below right: The two arches of the Maq'ad (balcony) looking on to the Hash.


The room found next to the "Mandara" looks on to a backyard with an inner staircase leading to the main "Harem Qaa". The presence of the two storerooms next to the backyard on the northern wall leads to the assumption that this area could have been previously used as the "Matbakh" (kitchen).

The ground floor is all built with clean cut stones while for the upper floors and later additions, brick; a much lighter material was used with the "Maqad" on the first floor of the Southern faade for an exception where stones were also used as it is considered a area of importance.

The "Maqad" (an open loggia) is reached through a few steps in the "Hosh" leading to a surprisingly tall monumental portal surmounted with a "Mukkkarnas" (stalactites, an ornamental arrangement of multi-tiered niches) and stone sculptures as its proportions are kind of unsuccessful.

At the back of the Maqad is a smaller space probably a private chamber of the Masters as no one else was allowed in there because it had a side access to the Harem quarters. There, the Master could relax, read or simply invite one of his favourite Harems to the special privilege of sitting in the only room of the Manzil with a Mashrabeyya looking onto the street.

The most impressive hall in the Manzil is the main Harem Qaa on the first floor, a majestic hall with perfect proportions and marvelous decorations. It is composed of the usual three sections, the Durqaa (central section) with two unequal iwans (sitting area) from each side at a higher level. In the middle of the marble tiled flooring of the Durqaa is a mosaic inlaid octagonal fountain.

Detail of a doorway found in the main Harem Qa'a.


Detail of a doorway found in the main Harem Qa'a.


Left: View of the courtyard showing the secondary Harem Qa'a on the southern facade.

The hall is distinguished for its beautiful carved wooden ceiling, rich with colours and inscriptions bands that unfortunately dont indicate the date of construction of the hall but the elegant architectural style and simplicity of the lines are those used on the times of Sultan Qaitbay.

A part from the doorway linking the Qaa to the private chambers of the master, it also has a door leading to a private "Hamam" (bathroom) and another to the secondary Qaa on the northern side of the Manzil. Less important than the main Qaa, it was probably constructed due to the need to expand as is the case for the second floor which was built later on.

View of the courtyard showing the secondary Harem Qa'a on the southern facade.

Detail of a doorway found in the main Harem Qa'a.

Above right: Detail of a doorway found in the main Harem Qa'a.

Left: View of the courtyard showing the secondary Harem Qa'a on the southern facade.

the main Qaa, it was probably constructed due to the need to expand as is the case for the second floor which was built later on.

One can almost picture those Bourgeoisie Houses in big numbers, as they were in old times, one next to the other forming the Urban fabric of old Islamic Cairo where the most important figures of Cairo must have lived.

Manzil Zeinab Khatoun, a fine example of the Ottoman era, was restored lately by Egyptian officials and now it is reused as a cultural centre were many social - musical activities and exhibitions are held.

View of Zeinab Khatoun House's Street facade from al-Azhari Alley.


References:

  • "Palais et maisons du Caire"

du XIV au XVIII Siecle.

  • Jacques Revault et Bernard Maury- Institut Francaise dArcheologie Orientale.

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