Khanqah and Madrasa of Sultan Faraj ibn Barquq
The building is located within the area of the Mamluk Cemetery (Northern Cemetery), Cairo, Egypt
Hegira 813 / AD 1411
Sultan al-Nasir Faraj ibn Barquq who ruled twice in AH 801–8 / AD 1399–1405 and in AH 808–15 / AD1405–12. The intervening period between his two reigns saw the short reign of Sultan al-Mansur 'Abd al-Aziz.
This building is considered one of the largest multi-purpose complexes to be erected in the cemeteries of Egypt, for it consists of a mosque, a khanqah for sufi residents, a madrasa for religious learning, two mausoleums, two sabils (water dispensaries) and on top of each sabil, a kuttab, a Qur'anic school for children.
The principle façade of the building is on the northwestern side. And on each end of it there is an entrance to the complex which is crowned by a tri-lobed arch. The western portal is used at the present time. Likewise, at each end of this façade, there is a sabil above which are the two kuttabs. The façade is topped by two slender minarets, which in terms of both their intricate detailing and beauty of proportion, are considered to be among the most prominent examples of Mamluk minarets.
The floor-plan of the complex is almost square, approximately 85 m x 85 m. It consists of a large open courtyard measuring 37 m x 40 m, surrounded by four iwans. The largest and deepest of these iwans is the qibla iwan, measuring 34 m x 17 m. The qibla iwan is composed of three aisles of arches running parallel to the qibla wall, and perpendicular to the other arches. The qibla iwan is covered by 21 shallow domes made out of brick, whose transition zones are formed of spherical pendentives, thus resembling the domes in the colonnades of the Fatimid Mosque, al-Aqmar. The mihrab is crowned by a dome that is higher than the rest of the domes of the iwan, and whose area of transition is set with corner muqarnas. The iwan facing the qibla is composed of three colonnades covered with small domes, whose zones of transition are composed of spherical pendentives. Each of the side iwans is made up of a single aisle of arches, covered with small domes. Behind these two iwans are sufi cells.
On both sides of the qibla iwan are two mausoleums. Each of them is a square room which can be entered from one of the two sides of the qibla iwan by means of a doorway that is adorned with an interlaced and interlocked wooden screen, ornamented with geometric designs. An elevated stone dome with a diameter of 14 m covers each of the mausoleums; each has a transition zone made up of a number of muqarnas tiers. The domes' exterior surfaces are decorated with carved geometric decoration composed of zigzag patterns, forming a pattern reminiscent of a linked chain in the shape of the letter V. These domes are considered to be amongst the most innovative of decorative domes, their intricate detailing representing the pinnacle of the genre. The domes are among the oldest of these large stone constructions erected in Cairo, and represent Mamluk engineering at its zenith.
Sultan al-Zahir Barquq was buried in the northeastern mausoleum. Some historical sources state that Sultan Barquq asked his son Faraj to bury him in the mausoleum of this complex, and not in the building that houses the madrasa and khanqah that was constructed by Sultan Barquq in AH 788 / AD 1386, in al-Muizz li Din Allah Street in Cairo. Also buried in this mausoleum are the sons of Sultan Barquq. In the southwestern mausoleum, the wife of al-Zahir Barquq, Khawand Shaqra, and the daughter of al-Nasir Faraj, were buried. In as far as both complexes comprise two mausoleums, this one resembles the Madrasa of 'Umm Sultan Sha'ban (built in AH 790 / AD 1369).
A distinguishing feature of this complex lies in the successful combination of two styles: the manner of madrasas with iwans, and the mode of mosques with hypostyle rows of columns. This building is further distinguished by the symmetry of its architectural components in the northwestern façade, clearly manifest in the positioning of the two sabils at both sides of the façade; in the symmetry of the two portals of the complex and in the two minarets, each of which is placed beside one of the entrances. This symmetry also appears in the northeastern façade of the building, where the two identical domes of the mausoleums are placed at the two ends of the façade.
This complex, the largest in its area, comprises a mosque, a khanqah (hostel for Sufis), a madrasa, two sabils (water dispensaries), two kuttabs (Qur'anic school for children), two mausoleums and two minarets. It lies in the Mamluk (Northern) Cemetery of Cairo, historically one of the most important cemeteries. Sultans and amirs since the end of the AH 8th / AD 14th century built mosques, madrasas and khanqahs there and annexed to them their tombs and mausoleums. By the late AH 9th / AD 15th century the Cemetery contained many superb monuments that represented the magnificence of Mamluk architecture.
The building was dated based on a high-relief inscription on the two sides of the entrance, which includes the name of the sponsor and the date when construction was completed.
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Mamluk Art. The Splendour and Magic of the Sultans, pp. 103-106.
Tarek Torky "Khanqah and Madrasa of Sultan Faraj ibn Barquq" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2023. 2023. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;isl;eg;mon01;26;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).
MWNF Working Number: ET 26
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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