Few dynasties built as profusely as the Mamluks. Sultans and princess were avid patrons of architecture and, as a result, few cities in the world match the historical architectural wealth found in the Mamluk capital of Cairo.
The architecture of the Mamluks is primarily built of stone and predominant in the two major regions under their control: Egypt and Greater Syria. Wood is used for elements such as doors, panels and mihrab
s, as well as for the lattice window screens known as mashrabiyyas.
Domes are commonly built of stone. Stucco is used for decorative elements.
plan, which was introduced earlier to the architecture of Egypt and Syria by the Zangids and Ayyubids, emerged as the most common plan for the religious buildings of the Mamluks, including mosques and madrasas
, as well as the numerous structures that combined both. These madrasas
and mosques often include a domed mausoleum for the building's patron.
The minaret in the Mamluk tradition often has different sections along the component parts of its shaft, resulting in an arrangement referred to as the three-tiered minaret. This minaret would have a square base, followed by an octagonal shaft, which in turn would be proceeded by a circular shaft, the upper part of which might be colonnaded. Balconies resting on muqarnas
vaults may separate these sections from each other. Other minaret sections such as fully octagonal ones are also common.
Mamluk buildings are generally not symmetrical, instead they tend to emphasise the use of balance over symmetry in their overall composition. The alignment of the building with the different directions of the street and the qibla
is emphasised, and this results in a rich variety of entry sequences to buildings that mark dramatic changes in axis. The buildings are monumental in scale, especially those located in Cairo.
Dome shapes in Mamluk architecture often have a cylindrical drum and a pointed profile. Initially, squinches, and later pendentives in many cases consisting of muqarnas
units, are used as the transitional zone for the dome. In earlier examples, wood is used for these transitional elements, but stone later prevails. Both round and pointed arches are used, but pointed ones are more prevalent, especially in later Mamluk architecture.
The Mamluks used calligraphy extensively. Also, the ablaq
technique, which was introduced during the late Ayyubid period, becomes widespread and even characteristic of Mamluk architecture. The use of stone muqarnas
is ubiquitous, the most elaborate examples articulate the half-domes located over entry portals. Even column capitals sometimes consist of muqarnas
units. Dome exteriors are often decorated with carved stone, revealing ribbed, zigzag and intricate star-shaped, as well as arabesque patterns. Façade recesses, into which windows are placed, are usually crowned with rows of muqarnas
units. Coloured-glass and stucco grills are common for window openings, and inlaid marble is frequently used for surface decoration.
The Mamluks were ardent builders of military architecture. They carried out numerous renovations and expansions of previous Crusader and Ayyubid fortresses. Also, since they ruled an empire that accumulated considerable wealth from the transit of goods through its territories, they constructed numerous buildings that served the purposes of commerce.
The architecture of the Mamluks was very cosmopolitan in nature. Cairo was an important international political and commercial centre, and it attracted artisans from various regions. Mamluk architecture consequently incorporates influences from al-Andalus, North Africa, Crusader, Central Asia, and Persia.