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

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The Complex of Sultan Inal (No.158), A.D.1451-6 / 855-60 A.H.

The complex, now much ruined, was typical of the religious foundations built by the sultans in the cemetery. It comprised numerous structures, including a mosque designed as a cruciform madrasa with its minaret, a khanqa: a huge Sufi convent with its attendant service facilities, a sabil distributing drinking water as charity (this is a rare example of a sabil as a free-standing structure), and the domed tomb of the founder.

 

This was not the only case of a Mamluk amir erecting his mausoleum, and then enlarging it or building a bigger one when he became sultan. Originally Inal’s tomb was a simple walled enclosure with a decorated gate, the domed tomb chamber in the corner, an arcade for prayers by the wall directed towards Mecca, and some rooms along the perimeter wall. An example of a similar arrangement, apparently once quite popular, has been preserved nearby. The building was done in phases resulting in the dome, although of fine proportions and good craftsmanship, sitting awkwardly low compared to other parts of the complex.

 

Inal, born in Cairo, was sold as a slave to Sultan Barquq, and then made a free man by his son Sultan Farag . The progress of his career was slow, possibly hampered by the fact that he never bothered to learn to read or write, but he advanced steadily in the Mamluk hierarchy to the position of ‘amir of one hundred’ under Sultan Barsbay , finally becoming atabak: the Commander of the Armies. As one who proved acceptable to the various quarelling Mamluk factions, he was elected sultan in 1453 when he was already seventy-two years old. His rule of almost eight years saw the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, and was remembered as prosperous and just, in spite of repeated revolts by the Mamluks.