HANDS ON Traditional Crafts at The City of the Dead in Cairo

1/13
Funerary Complex of Sulayman Pasha al-Silahdar (unlisted), mid-19th cent. A.D. / 13th cent. A.H.

Sulayman Pasha held different posts, including master of the Arsenal with the title ‘al-Silahdar’. He was part of the centralised administration that Muhammad `Ali Pasha, who ruled Egypt from 1805, established after ruthlessly eliminating the powerful Mamluk elite in 1811. Sulayman amassed a huge fortune and built two large commercial establishments in Cairo, as well as a marble-clad mosque on the Qasaba, the main street of the medieval city.

 

Sulayman was notorious for cruelty. The renowned British orientalist E. W. Lane, who visited Egypt in the 1820s and 1830s, recorded an especially gruesome story about him and said he was “infamous for many barbarous acts”. If Sulayman’s ill-fame was deserved, he was true to a long tradition in Cairo, where rapacious and bellicose Mamluks were also great patrons of art. His mosque in the city is an outstanding piece of architecture, and so is his funerary complex, nowadays unfortunately in an advanced state of ruin. Its restrained, simple and abstract forms appear to flow fluidly, and resemble the Art Nouveau style that developed more than half a century later in Europe.

 

While very different in appearance, the funerary complex of Sulayman al-Silahdar has much in common in its overall arrangement with the mediaeval Mamluk monuments in the cemetery. It is a huge enclosed courtyard used as a graveyard with an arcade to one side. A raised reception / resting hall (now collapsed) formerly stood over the arcade, not unlike in the earlier complex of Amir Kebir Qurqumas further north-west. There was a fine wall fountain (çesme) in Turkish style, accessible from the street in the north-western corner. Its impressive arched framing made in the form of a massive stone moulding collapsed recently.

 

(This Sulayman should not be confused with the early Ottoman governor who built a mosque at the Citadel in the 16th century.)