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

MWNF Working Number: ET 12