Sabil (Water Dispensary) and Kuttab (Qur’anic School) of ‘Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda
The building is located on al-Muizz li Din Allah Street (bayna al-Qasrain) at its intersection with Tambakshia Street. This area is rich in Islamic monuments from different eras. The monument is opposite the Mamluk Palace of Amir Bashtak, Cairo, Egypt
Hegira 1157 / AD 1744
The Commander 'Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda ibn Husayn Jawish al-Qardughli, who occupied the post of Overseer of Awqaf (Endowments) in AH 1161 / AD 1748. Many buildings in Cairo are associated with him.
This monument has a special artistic importance, for it is a free-standing complex that consists of a sabil (water dispensary) and a kuttab (Qur'an school) both of which display many of the glories of Islamic art specific to the Ottoman period. The building represents the style of sabil that has three windows and which is a blend of the Mamluk and Ottoman styles.
The sabil has three facades (south, north and west) that are identical and equal in length. Each façade contains a semi-circular arch, which is supported by two spiral marble pillars. In the middle of the arch is a large opening from which cups of water may be obtained for passers-by (windows for the procurement of water or tasbil).
The opening seen here sits within a semi-circular arch supported by two marble spiral pillars. The tasbil are covered with copper grills in the form of intersecting tri-lobed arches; these allow drinking-cups to be passed through them. The spandrels of the arches are decorated with splendid geometric designs executed in fine polychrome marble. The walls of the outer façade contain interlocked stone courses in the form of whirling vegetal leaves. The façade of the sabil is crowned with nine tiers of muqarnas, which bear the floor of the first storey containing the kuttab. The entrance to the sabil is located on Tambakshiyya Street, to the left of the southern façade, and resembles the Mamluk portal. The entrance is composed of a recessed wall crowned with a tri-lobed arch and a semi-dome decorated with tiers of muqarnas. In the middle of the recessed wall is the door to the sabil the straight, top lintel of which is adorned with carved verses of poetry. Above the lintel there is a marble decorative unit comprising a central circle. It contains the foundation text surrounded by four tiny circles.
The entrance to the sabil leads to a small vestibule, which contains three doors: the first is located to the right of the entrance and leads to the cistern chamber; the second is to the left of the entrance and leads to the room from which the water is distributed hograt al-tasbil (water dispensing room), and the third is at the rear of the vestibule leading to the stairs and up to the kuttab. The floor-plan of the water-dispensing room is rectangular (3.50 m x 4.50 m). Three windows are located within the recessed areas of the room's three walls, which overlook the street. The walls of the room are panelled with blue-glazed ceramic tiles and decorated with a multiplicity of vegetal decoration. The southern wall contains a panel of glazed tiles depicting a view of the Holy Ka'aba and the buildings surrounding it.
The kuttab, or school room, has a rectangular floor-plan of the same dimensions as the hograt al-tasbil. The kuttab overlooks the street from three directions by means of three mashrabiyya, and it has seven marble pillars, which resemble the pillars on the façade. The pillars are topped by six stone pointed arches, crowned with an inclined wooden awning. A balcony projects from the kuttab, characterised by 14 exquisite slim wooden pillars which bear 15 arches supported by balustrades, made from beautiful turned wood. The balcony is roofed with a wooden awning that is lower than the first.
This building has special artistic importance as a freestanding establishment in the heart of al-Muizz Street. It consists of a sabil (water dispensary) with three façades and three windows covered with iron grills for distributing free drinking water to the local population, passers-by and travellers. The second floor is occupied by a kuttab (Qur'anic school for children) with a balcony overlooking three sides through mashrabiyya screens. The Mamluk and Ottoman styles blend harmoniously in the construction of this monument.
The building was dated based on an inscription above the entrance that includes the name of the sponsor and the date of construction. Furthermore, a waqf deed is preserved in the archives of the Ministry of Awqaf or Endowments (file no. 941, dated 1158 ), it also gives the name of the builder.
Briggs, M. S., Muhammaden Architecture in Egypt and Palestine, Oxford, 1924.
Al-Hussaini, Mahmoud H., Al-Asbila al-Othmaniya bi madinat al-Qahira [The Ottoman Sabils in the City of Cairo], Cairo, 1999.
Khalifa, R., Al-Balatat al-Khazafiya ala al-'Ama'ir bil Qahira [Glazed Tiles on Architecture in Cairo], MA thesis, University of Cairo, 1977.
Raymond, A., Le Caire des Janissaires: L'Apogée de la Ville Ottomane sous Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda, Paris, 1995.
Sameh, Kamal al-Din, Athar al-Amir Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda al-Mi'mariya bil Qahira [Architectural Monuments of the Amir Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda in Cairo], PhD thesis, University of Cairo, 1947.
Tarek Torky "Sabil (Water Dispensary) and Kuttab (Qur’anic School) of ‘Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2024. 2024. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;eg;Mon01;20;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 20
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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