Qala'un's complex

Date: 1284 to 1286
Description: The Mamluks were former slave-soldiers who established a sultanate in Cairo in 1223 and ruled the eastern Mediterranean for three centuries. The sultans focused their patronage on multifunctional architectural complexes that served the public and advertised their power and wealth as much as their piety. One such complex was built for Sultan Qala'un (r. 1280–90) in only two years. The foundation inscription on its facade, placed low for legibility, announced his titles, including lord of kings and sultans, the sultan of the length and breadth of the Earth, king of kings of Arabs and non-Arabs, guardian of the two qiblas (i.e., the shrines in Mecca and Medina), and many more. The foundation document (waqfiyya ) indicates that the complex is to be the most beautiful building in the world.

The portal features contrasting black-and-white strapwork and joggled voussoirs; such contrasting stonework, called ablaq, is typical of Mamluk architecture. The entrance leads to a long roofed corridor with a hospital at the end (now destroyed). Medical care was free for all Muslims. Off the corridor to the left is a four-iwan madrasa; the largest iwan, with an ornate mihrab, resembles a three-aisle basilica. To the right is Qala'un's octagonal mausoleum, lavishly decorated with marble, carved stucco, and gilding, separated from the encircling walkway by a wooden screen. The mausoleum's mihrab is decorated with large spolia columns, ablaq, marble mosaic, and tiers of miniature columns. Prayers and Qur'anic recitations around the clock were audible from the street and meant to inspire prayers for Qala’un by passers-by. The complex was a model for later Mamluk sultans who built their own multifunctional ensembles in Cairo.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 9
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons; Navid Jamali

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