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

The Complex of Sultan al-Ashraf Barsbay (No.121), A.D.1432 / 835 A.H.

Sultan al-Ashraf Barsbay, originally a mamluk of Sultan Barquq, also built a mosque/madrasa with a tomb on the Qasaba (Muizz l’id-Din Allah Street) in Fatimid Cairo. The complex in the Eastern Cemetery, built of stone, comprises a mosque with a minaret, a khanqa, and the sultan’s tomb.


The unusually elongated prayer hall of the mosque and the attached tomb chamber have very rich internal decoration, with marble mosaic floors and marble wall panelling, painted wooden ceilings, and elaborate inlaid woodwork, including an exquisitely decorated minbar (pulpit), originally made in 1451 for the now-destroyed mosque of al-Ghamri. The dome of the tomb, over a scrolled zone-of-transition, is richly decorated with web-like interlacing star patterns. The present brick minaret is a late Ottoman-period replacement. The mosque is open for prayers.


The façade of the khanqa (Sufi convent) survives (conserved by the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe.) The monumental inscription band on the façade contains parts of the endowment deed (waqfiya). The rest of the building is in ruins.


At the rear of the complex, within a huge walled courtyard, are tombs of family members, including an open canopy-like structure with the dome decorated in star-like patterns similar to that of Ganibak. A ruin of a smaller canopy-like structure stands close to the mosque; its dome is missing. The entrance gate (now blocked) from the main street and a ruined entrance hall are located next to the khanqa, and beside it in the southwest corner of the enclosure is a sabil, its huge window now walled-up. Only scant remains survive of the service buildings within the enclosure.

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