Sabil of Sultan Qaytbay
Located within the Haram al-Sharif about 15 m northeast of Madrasa al-Ashrafiyya, Jerusalem
Built in AH 887 / AD 1482, then renovated in AH 1300 / AD 1882–3
It is probable that the same team of engineers, architects and builders constructed both the Madrasa al-Ashrafiyya and the Sabil of Qaytbay, and that they were sent by Sultan Qaytbay from Egypt to Jerusalem to execute the work.
The building dates to the Mamluk period and was renovated in the Ottoman period
Sultan Sayf al-Din Inal (r. AH 857–65 / AD 1453–61) founded the sabil where the Sabil of Qaytbay is located today; nothing remains of this original Sabil of Inal. Then Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay (r. AH 872–901 / AD 1468–96) completely renovated the structure and made it an extension to his neighbouring Madrasa al-Ashrafiyya. The Sabil of Qaytbay was renovated by the Ottoman Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid II (Adülhamid II, r. AH 1293–1327 / AD 1876–1909).
The sabil, which is approximately 13 m high, consists of three sections. The first section is the square base, the walls of which open up to high windows in three directions, and a door that leads inside the sabil and opens out on to the fourth, east-facing direction. In each corner of the structure there is a pillar that is supported by the base and ends with a muqarnas capital with hewn-out decoration. The second section of the sabil edifice is the middle section comprising the drum of the dome, and the zone of transition between the base and the dome. At the corners of the drum, small piers are erected which are pyramidal in shape and facilitate the transition from the high square of the base to an octagonal, and then into a 12-sided polygon. The third section of the building is the high stone dome which is decorated with distinctive arabesque ornamentation. This dome is considered to be a unique example of Egyptian Mamluk architecture outside Cairo. The courses of the sabil were built of alternating red and yellow stone, known as ablaq. At the top of the building there is a carved inscription band that includes verses from the Qur'an and which holds a foundation inscription written in prominent Mamluk naskhi script.
The architectural and decorative elements of this sabil were inspired principally by Egyptian building traditions which predominated during the Mamluk period. The Sabil of Qaytbay is considered to be one of the most famous and grandiose sabils built in Jerusalem, and is also seen as one of the most exquisite small-domed buildings in the region of the Haram al-Sharif. The edifice is a good example of late Mamluk architecture in general, and of the architectural style that dominated in Cairo in particular. The sabil, which is still replenished, continues to provide visitors to the Haram al-Sharif with fresh water.
The decorative and architectural elements of this sabil (public fountain) was inspired principally by Egyptian building traditions. The building has a square ground plan (4.80 m x 4.60 m) and it towers about 13 m from the ground. It is surmounted by a very high stone dome which is decorated in the arabesque style. Each of its facades contains a large window. Scattered throughout the building are inscriptions, which are primarily Qur’anic verses in addition to the foundation inscription. This sabil is considered to be one of the most famous and beautiful of the many sabils in Jerusalem.
The building is dated by an inscription band which goes around the top of the all four sides of the facade. The date is further verified by the writing of the historian, Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali (d. 928 / 1521) who describes the works of Sultan Qaytbay in Jerusalem.
Burgoyne. M., Mamluk Jerusalem: An Architectural Study, London, 1987.
Al-Hanbali, Mujir al-Din, (d. 927 / 1520), Al-Uns al-Jalil fi Tarikh al-Quds wa al-Khalil [The Significant Ambiance in the History of Jerusalem and Hebron], Amman, 1973.
Kessler, C., and Burgoyne, M., “The Fountain of Sultan Qaytbay in the Sacred Precinct of Jerusalem”, in R. Moorey and P. Parr (eds), Archaeology in the Levant: Essays for Kathleen Kenyon, Warminster, 1978, pp.250–69.
Walls, A., “Ottoman Restorations to the Sabils and the Madrasa of Qaytbay in Jerusalem”, Muqarnas, No. 10, 1993, pp.85–97.
Pilgrimage, Sciences and Sufism: Islamic Art in the West Bank and Gaza, pp.83–6.
Yusuf al-Natsheh "Sabil of Sultan Qaytbay" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;pa;Mon01;18;en
Prepared by: Yusuf Al-NatshehYusuf al-Natsheh
Yusuf Said Natsheh is a Palestinian and since 1997 he has been Director of the Department of Islamic Archaeology in al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. He is a lecturer at al-Quds University. He was educated in Jerusalem and Cairo and in 1997 obtained his Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Dr Natsheh is a council member of many Palestinian societies for architectural heritage and a consultant for various projects on Jerusalem. He has written books and more than 40 articles about Jerusalem's architectural heritage including the architectural survey of Ottoman architecture in R. Hillenbrand and S. Auld (eds) Ottoman Jerusalem: The Living City 1517–1917 (London: Altajir World of Islam Trust, 2000). He has contributed to many international and national conferences. He supervised the restoration project, sponsored by the Arab League, on Mamluk monuments in and around al-Haram al-Sharif, and was Palestinian expert for the UNESCO mission to Jerusalem in 2004.
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: PA 18
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