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

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The Complex of Amir Kebir Qurqumas (No.162), A.D.1506-7 / 911-13 A.H.

One of the largest funerary complexes in Cairo, that built for Amir Kebir Qurqumas includes a mosque in the form of a cruciform madrasa with a minaret and an attached sabil-kuttab, the domed mausoleum of the amir, and a huge palatial hall for the use of the founder and his descendants which is built over an arcade that opened onto a courtyard used for burials of the amir’s retainers. The façade with triple sets of windows on two storeys that stretches north of the mosque entrance porch belongs to a khanqa: a residential building for Sufis. Similar residential buildings, of which only excavated remnants of foundations now remain, originally also stood across from the main road that ran through the cemetery along the façade of the mosque and tomb. The street must have presented an impressive aspect, with the buildings of Qurqumas’s complex and the neighbouring buildings of Sultan Inal forming a 170-meter long continuous façade. The preserved foundation deed states that more then 50 people were permanently employed at the complex; they were provided with service buildings including elaborate sanitary facilities. A mill building is also preserved.

 

Amir Qurqumas was originally a mamluk of Sultan Qaitbey, and served with the title of ‘Great Amir’ (amir kebir) as Commander of the Armies of Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri. He did not live to see the Sultan’s death on the battlefield and the defeat of the Mamluk army that opened the way to the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. He died in 1510 aged sixty, and according to the chronicler Ibn Iyas, sorrow and weeping were general, because Qurqumas was both benevolent and modest. The Sultan himself was a coffin-bearer at the funeral. The architecture of his complex has more in common with that of Sultan Qaitbey that was built over thirty years earlier, than with contemporary buildings of Sultan al-Ghuri’s times, of which an example is the tomb of Amir Azrumuk, located some 1,500 metres to the south within the cemetery. Possibly the Amir looked back to the reign of his first master as the “good old days.”

 

The work of the Polish-Egyptian conservation team in 1970s -1990s restored the buildings from their half-ruined condition, but the complex is today unused and inaccessible.