Egypt: Cairo: Islamic Monuments - The Complex of Sultan Qala

The Complex of Sultan Qala'un


The complex of Sultan Qala'un was built along the Shari' el-Muizz (street) in 1284 by Sultan el-Mansur Qala'um. It comprises a mosque-medersa, a mausoleum and a mauristan (which was replaced by a modern hospital in the 1920s). The complex is the earliest example of a new Syrian style of those times, and displays typical Mameluke architecture. The exterior windows are columned and reminiscent of Gothic style, which Qala'un was certainly familiar with from the Crusader's churches. The entrance design is of interlaced polychrome masonry ablaq, while the square bottom and middle stories of the minaret reflect the Syrian design. This opens into a long corridor with its original beam and coffered ceiling, from which, to the left is the mosque-medersa, and to the right, opposite the medersa, is the mausoleum. The mauristan was located at the end of the corridor, which today, supports a modern eye clinic.




The madrasa opens into a courtyard with a liwan at either end. The sanctuary is on the east end and has three aisles with classical columns and arched clerestory highly reminiscent of Syrian basilican churches. So is the mihrab with its glass mosaics.


The mausoleum opposite the medersa has been called the most beautiful building in Cairo. The orientation of the mausoleum's interior, like that of the madrasa, is not the same as the exterior facade, which is aligned to the outside street. Inside, the octagonal shape allows for the qiblah wall itself to face Mecca, which is evident from the varying thickness of the exterior wall revealed in the window encasements. The entrance courtyard is shielded from the corridor by a screen, which together with the facade, has intricate designs in stucco. Inside, the soaring dome is lighted by intense color from glass set in plaster and carved with arabesque designs. Marble strips, panels of polychrome stone, gilding and the painted coffered ceiling, along with the richly decorative mihrab with its hood decorated with polychrome marble and its niche divided into segments of mosaic inlay and blind arcades provide an insight to Mameluke decorative arts.