In the Al-Khalifa district of Historic Cairo stand the Ottoman sabil-kuttab (water fountain and Quranic school) of Youssef Bek along with the Mameluke Mausoleum of the Amir Alameddin Sangar Al-Muzaffar and the Alaaeddin Aidken Al-Bendekdari Zawiya, now awaiting visitors after the completion of their restoration.
This came within the framework of the national campaign launched by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in 2015 to restore 100 monuments in the area.
The aim of the campaign is to restore monuments not only for their historical and archaeological value, but also because of their role in the community, with work being done to halt deterioration, remove debris, and upgrade 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 three monuments, like others in heavily populated areas, were suffering from environmental dangers including air pollution, high subsoil-water levels, high levels of humidity, water leakage, the effects of a decayed sewage system installed 100 years ago, and the adverse effects of the 1992 earthquake that increased the number of cracks in their walls.
“After around four years of restoration, now the three monuments have regained their original allure, announcing new attractions and the government’s desire to restore and preserve the country’s Islamic heritage not only for Egyptians but also for all humanity,” said Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).
He said that the walls of the buildings had been reinforced and cleaned, the masonry cleaned and desalinated, and decayed parts of the mashrabiya windows restored and replaced with similar ones. Wooden ceilings and decorative elements were restored and paintings retouched. A new lighting system was installed, giving the buildings a dramatic look.
Hisham Samir, assistant to the minister of culture for archaeological projects and supervisor of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the restoration work had been carried out according to the latest methods and every effort had been made to ensure that all original architectural features were retained.
He added that the restoration had been part of a project to see individual monuments preserved for future generations and neighbourhoods revived and upgraded.
To enhance the visitors’ experience of these sites, said Abu Bakr Abdallah, acting head of the Islamic, Coptic, and Jewish Antiquities Sector at the ministry, a group of information boards has been installed and their surroundings upgraded with provision for the disabled.
The mihrab of Al-Bendekdari Zawiya
The sabil-kuttab of Youssef Bek was established by Youssef Bek Al-Kabir, a nobleman during Egypt’s Ottoman period who was responsible for pilgrimages. He constructed the sabil to immortalise his name and as an act of charity.
A sabil is usually a finely decorated building enclosing a salasabil that provides passers-by with water. A kuttab, on the other hand, was a place where students studied the Quran and prophetic sayings.
The sabil-kuttab of Youssef Bek is half ruined as the kuttab no longer exists, but the edifice itself has beautiful woodwork ornamenting its facade and other features of Islamic architecture.
The Mausoleum of Alameddin Sangar Al-Muzaffar is located in Al-Helmiya Street in Historic Cairo and was established by the Amir Alameddin Sangar in the late Mameluke period.
It is one of the earliest brick-domed shrines in the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar district, and like most of the mausoleums of that time it is a ribbed tomb with pseudo-pilasters in its corners. It contains one squared room with a vaulted ceiling and eight rectangular windows.
The Alaaeddin Aidken Al-Bendekdari Zawiya, a small mosque, mausoleum and khanqah (hostel) building dedicated to Sufis studying the Quran, has a beautiful and distinctive dome.
The zawiya consists of a nave and qibla (prayer niche), while the khanqah is the first example of a structure of this sort during the Mameluke period. The building has an octagonal dome with widows decorated with stained glass and muqarnases, a three-dimensional architectural decorative element that flourished in its most complete form mainly during the Islamic period and is most pervasively used in domes and semi-domes.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 9 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly