In Souq Al-Selah Street in Islamic Cairo stands the sabil kuttab, or water fountain, of Rokaya Doudou, its Ottoman architecture now awaiting visitors after the completion of its restoration.
The sabil kuttab is in a heavily populated area and was suffering from environmental dangers including air pollution, high levels of humidity, excess subterranean water, and cracked walls.
Its restoration was within the framework of the national campaign launched by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in 2015 to restore 100 monuments in the area. It aims at rescuing the monuments not only for their historical and archaeological value, but also to restore their role in the community through halting deterioration, removing debris, and upgrading the sites and their surroundings.
It also develops the skills of workers in the field of restoration through direct participation in such work, as well as providing investment opportunities to rehabilitate the ancient buildings. A permanent maintenance programme will be adopted after the completion of the campaign.
The Rokaya Doudou sabil kuttab has now regained its original grandeur. It is considered to be among the most opulent 18th-century edifices still standing in Islamic Cairo and is a rare example of Rococo-influenced Ottoman-period architecture.
It was built in 1761 by Badawiya Shahine as an act of charity in memory of her daughter Rokaya Doudou. The interior has a painted wooden ceiling bearing numerous inscriptions, while its exterior façade is decorated with ceramic tiles, a wooden canopy, segmented arches, and stalactites (muqarnas), as well as rich geometrical and floral ornamentation engraved in stone.
Hisham Samir, assistant to the minister for projects and supervisor of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the restoration had been carried out according to the latest methods and after consultation of the original documents.
“Every effort was made to ensure that all the original architectural features were retained,” Samir said, adding that the restoration had been part of a project to see individual monuments preserved for future generations and neighbourhoods revived and upgraded.
The walls of the building were reinforced, the masonry cleaned and desalinated, and decayed parts of the mashrabiya windows restored and replaced with similar ones. The wooden ceiling was restored and its paintings retouched. A new lighting system was installed, giving the building a dramatic look.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 February , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly