Name of Monument:
Sabil (Water Dispensary) and Kuttab (Qur’anic School) of Sultan Qaytbay
The Sabil and Kuttab of Sultan Qaytbay is located at the beginning of al-Saliba Street in the Citadel Square, Cairo, Egypt
Date of Monument:
Hegira 884 / AD 1479
Period / Dynasty:
Sultan al-Ashraf Abu al-Nasr Qaytbay (r. AH 872–901 / AD 1468–96).
The sabil (a water dispensary) is constructed out of stone and is distinguished by the opulence of its southern and western facade. The elevated and narrow entrance located on the southern face, is crowned with a tri-lobed arch and decorated with stone and polychrome-marble designs. It is similar to the entrance of Ashrafiyya Madrasa in Jerusalem. To the left of the entrance, just above the grill, there is a large, square decorative panel in polychrome marble and stone. The panel is divided into nine sections and arranged in three rows, consisting of carved vegetal and geometric designs. These decorations are not common in Mamluk buildings and are reminiscent of those seen in illuminated manuscripts. This design brings to mind one on the cover of the manuscript by al-Busairi entitled, al-Kawakib al-Duriya fi Madh khayr al-Bariya [The Shining Stars in Praise of the Most Blessed of Creation], popularly known by the name of 'al-Burda'. This manuscript, which is preserved in Dublin, Ireland, suggests that decorative designs were transferred with no restriction from one art form or medium to the other. It also indicates that the decorative designs were drawn on paper first of all as a template, and then adapted to various mediums, whether metal, stone, marble or wood.
View Short Description
Sabils are spread all over Cairo to provide free drinking water for inhabitants, passers-by and travellers. Such buildings were charitable institutions that sultans, amirs and the wealthy vied to build. They were commonly situated in the corner of a mosque or an architectural complex. This sabil built by Qaytbay is considered to be the first freestanding construction of this type. Above the sabil is a kuttab to teach orphans the rudiments of Islam, the Arabic language and memorising the Qur'an.
How Monument was dated:
The building was dated based on an inscription flanking the entrance, which bears the name of the patron, Sultan al-Ashraf Abu al-Nasr Qaytbay, and his titles as well as the date of construction.
Behrens-Abouseif, D., Islamic Architecture in Cairo, Leiden, 1989.
Citation of this web page:
Tarek Torky "Sabil (Water Dispensary) and Kuttab (Qur’anic School) of Sultan Qaytbay" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;eg;Mon01;14;en
Prepared by: Tarek Torky