Name of Monument:

Madrasa and Mosque of Sultan Qaytbay


The Madrasa and Mosque of Sultan Qaytbay is located in the Northern Cemetery (Cemetery of the Mamluks), Cairo, Egypt

Date of Monument:

Hegira 879 / AD 1474

Period / Dynasty:



Sultan al-Ashraf Abu al-Nasr Qaytbay (r. AH 872–901 / AD 1468–96).


The principal, northern face of the madrasa contains the entrance. The form of the entrance follows the style typical of Mamluk entrances, commonly crowned with a tri-lobed arch that includes carved muqarnas. To the left of the entrance is the sabil(water dispensary) and above the entrance, a kuttab (Qur'anic school). There is a minaret to the right of the entrance, which is considered one of the most complete Mamluk examples as it represents both the architectural harmony and decorative skill of the age.
The ground plan of the madrasa consists of a square courtyard with a polychrome marble floor and a ceiling with a central skylight. The courtyard is surrounded by four iwans, the biggest of which is the qibla iwan, which overlooks the courtyard by means of a horseshoe arch. This iwan includes a magnificent minbar made of wood and inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl, decorated with intricate geometric ornamentation. Stuccoed windows, inset with coloured glass characterise the upper portion of the walls. The designer of the building was extremely skilled in filling the interior spaces with a variety of decorations: the embellishment of the wooden ceiling, its gilding and its painting; the arches that assume a number of forms; the stonework, decorated and carved with vegetal designs; the marble floors of the madrasa, mausoleum and water dispensary as well as the stucco windows.
The mausoleum is accessed through a door on one of the side walls of the qibla iwan. Its floor plan is square and it is covered by a dome. The transition zone from a square to the circularity of the dome consists of nine tiers of intricately detailed stone muqarnas. The dome is decorated on the outside by ornamentation carved in stone, which consists of repetitive vegetal forms and geometric motifs in harmony with it. The design of this dome is considered to be an example of Mamluk stone decoration at its peak.
The Complex of Qaytbay is considered one of the most innovative and beautiful of architectural complexes in Islamic Egypt. Its importance lies in the detailed decoration, the beauty of its proportions and the harmony of its architectural components, which include the madrasa, mosque, water dispensary, Qur'anic school and the mausoleum.

View Short Description

This monument stands in the Mamluk (Northern) Cemetery and is described as the most beautiful of the architectural complexes in Islamic Egypt. It is notable for its fine decoration, its perfect balance and the harmony of its components, which include a mosque, a sabil (water dispensary), a kuttab (Qur'anic school for children) and a mausoleum, and became known as the 'jewel' of Islamic architecture. Sultan Qaytbay, its patron, ruled for 29 years and has left many charitable monuments in Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Egypt.

How Monument was dated:

The complex is dated based on bands of epigraphic inscription, which record the name and title of the builder and the date of construction. There is an inscription band beside the entrance to the madrasa and another in the higher reaches of the qibla iwan, both of which include the date when construction started (877 / 1472). Furthermore, there is an inscription band inside the mausoleum, which includes the date when the construction of the dome was finished (879 / 1474).

Selected bibliography:

Abd al-Wahab, H., Tarikih al-Masajid al-Athariya [History of Monumental Mosques], Cairo, 1994.
Behrens-Abouseif, D., “Change in Function and Form of Mamluk Religious Institutions”, Annales Islamologiques, 1985, 21: pp.73–93.
Behrens-Abouseif, D., Islamic Architecture in Cairo, Leiden, 1989.
Prisse d'Avennes, é., L'Art arabe d'après les monuments du Caire depuis le VIIe siècle jusqu'à la fin du XVIIIe, Paris, 1877.
Grabar, O., “The Inscriptions of the Madrasa-Mausoleum of Qaytbay”, Near Eastern Numismatics, Iconography, Epigraphy, and History: Studies in Honor of George C. Miles, (ed. K. Dickran Kouymjian), Beirut, 1974.
Hamza, H., The Northern Cemetery of Cairo, Cairo, 2001.
Kessler, C., “The Carved Masonry Domes of Medieval Cairo”, Art and Archaeology Research Papers, Cairo, 1976.
Newhall, A., The Patronage of the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay: 872–901/1468–1496, PhD thesis, Harvard University, 1987.
Roberts, D., Egypt Nubia, London, 1896.
Salem, al-Sayyed Mahmoud Abd al-Aziz, al-Ma'din al-Masriya – Nazra 'ama 'an aslaha wa tataworiha mundu al-Fath al-'arabi hatta al-Fath al-Othmani [Egyptian minarets – A General View of their Origin and Development from the Islamic Conquest until the Ottoman Conquest], Cairo, 1959.

Citation of this web page:

Tarek Torky "Madrasa and Mosque of Sultan Qaytbay" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. 2022.;ISL;eg;Mon01;12;en

Prepared by: Tarek TorkyTarek Torky

Tarek Abdel Aziz Torky holds a BA in Islamic and Coptic Antiquities from Cairo University (1982). He is currently Head of the Statistics Department at the Information Centre of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and reporter of the committee set up to prepare for the celebrations of the centennial of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo. As Expo Curator for the Discover Islamic Art project in Egypt he prepared the database information for the Egyptian monuments included in the project and participated in formulating the dynastic and cross-dynastic exhibitions. He has participated in the first phase of the Islamic Art in the Mediterranean project as product manager and prepared the texts and photos for the catalogue Mamluk Art: the Splendour and Magic of the Sultans (MWNF, 2001). In 2002 he obtained a scholarship for Med. Master on new technologies for valorisation and management of Mediterranean Cultural Heritage in Ravello, Salerno.

Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: ET 12


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