The Restoration of the
Ancient Sultan Kalawon Ophthalmology Hospital
Antiquity News for June 18th 2001
by Jimmy Dunn
(Cairo) The Sultan Kalawon Ophthalmology Hospital was built 750 years ago in the time of Sultan Kalawon.This hospital is located on Nahasein Street in the Hussein area of Old Cairo.It is actually part of a larger complex of buildings including a tremendous mosque; making up whatis known as the Sultan Kalawon Complex.The hospital remarkably is still used up to this day as an eye hospital.Thus for almost a thousand years such a medical building has been for the same purpose and continues in our modern times.This makes it a treasured historical monument under the protection of the Ministry of Culture.But as well, the Ministry of Health considers it a vital medical facility servicing a high volume of patients daily.
The Sultan Kalawon Hospital was designed by the engineer Alam Edem El-Shogie.It's design layout consists of 4 large chambers connected together by corridors and smaller rooms.Over the centuries, the building had become partially neglected and experienced many partial structural collapses.Various renovation projects over the centuries has allowed the hospital to remain standing and functional.However current efforts by the Ministry Of Culture are to provide complete and effective restoration and renovation of the medical building.
This hospital remained functioning as an ophthalmology center until 1856. Then for the next 25 or so years it was used as a psychiatric hospital until 1881.It then regained its former specialty once again as an eye hospital.
In 1950, during Nasser's time, the Sultan Kalawon Hospital became under the official jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health since the Ministry considers the hospital a vital organization to treat eye disease for residents of Old Cairo.Likewise, the Egypt Antiquities Organization (EAO) requested that the hospital become part of the Egypt antiquities due to its age, historical importance as part of the Sultan Kalawon monuments, and the antiquity care and protection it needed.Problems thus started to arise between the two governmental bodies.
Doctors in the Sultan Kalawon Hospital says that they receive almost 400 patients daily suffering from diseases in the eye as well as dental related diseases (the hospital also offers dentistry services).The site serves as a governmental hospital giving free treatment to the public.Thus the lower classes benefit greatly from this hospital and citizens come from all over Old Cairo to be examined and treated here.Eye operations are also preformed in this hospital and as well there is an outpatient clinic, and the dental work.
At the same time, intense restorations are taking place at the hospital by the Ministry of Culture antiquity group.New blocks of stones are being put in place where missing ones are and nearby monuments of the Sultan Kalawon Complex are under heavy restoration.The hospital is tightly situated within the nearby Sultan Kalawon monuments.These restoration efforts, although extremely important, are creating safety and healthconcerns for the hospital; especially concerns about dust flow, machinery noise, and other pollution related to restoration construction. Sanitary conditions are decreasing in the hospital.The Ministry of Health does not want to close it for restorations since it services a high volume of people each day and completion of the restoration of the entire nearby Sultan Kalawon monuments may take more than a year. Likewise, the antiquity restoration teams do not want to stoprestorations since nearby monuments are in dire need of attention in order to avoid collapse.
One area of particular problem is the waiting area for the outgoing patient clinic.It is located outside and consists of about 20 long wooden benches for patients situated under a wooden canopy to block the sun.Patients wait there until their turn is ready upon then which they go into the three small wards for treatment.Both the ward building and waiting area are just meters away from heavy restoration construction and busy construction workers.
As with any restoration project, there are also heavy machinery and cars and pickup trucks passing in and out on a daily basis.
There are about 40 doctors in the hospital and most of them complain about the current situation.Workers in the hospital say the situation is disorganized between the antiquities group and Ministry of Health.This situation has been going on for a long time. The hospital manager is under a lot of pressure for each patient needs examination, lab tests and needs to be treated.Doctors cannot work properly with the ongoing restoration of the site.
An official in the Ministry of Health said that this problem will end with the completion of the restorations.But what is commonly known is that after the restorations, the hospital will then undergo renovations.Restorations and renovations are two different systems of structural care. The Sultan Kalawon Ophthalmology Hospital is the only hospital in old Cairo for the treatment of eye disease.Renovations to improve the hospital has to take place to better service the high volume of patients especially after the closure of the Rod El-Faragg Ophthalmology Hospital 3 years ago.
This situation serves as an example of the complex antiquity issues related to a thriving city such as Old Cairo.The ancient hospital is still used to this day to service hundreds of people daily, yet the site and large monuments just meters away need to undergo long restoration efforts to preserve Cairo's historical and ancient heritage. People caught in the middle tend to respect both sides of the issue, deeming importance for both the medical and antiquity concerns of the site.But it looks like only patience and a lot of time will be needed before the ancient Sultan Kalawon Hospital is returned back to its former peaceful state deep within the Sultan Kalawon complex of monuments in the Old Cairo area of Egypt.