Sunday,15 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Sunday,15 July, 2018
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Mameluke water trough restored

A water trough built for livestock by Mameluke Sultan Al-Ashraf Qaitbay in the City of the Dead has been restored, reports Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

During the last week of Ramadan the Mameluke City of the Dead was converted into a City of the Living, with Tanoura dancing and people in white gallabiyyas clapping on douf (tambourines). They were celebrating the successful restoration of a water trough built in the 15th century by Mameluke Sultan Al-Ashraf Qaitbay.

The trough was damaged after the 25 January Revolution, when the security vacuum exposed many of the country’s archaeological and historical sites to encroachment and damage, among them monuments in mediaeval and historic Cairo located in densely populated areas.

Peddlers, plant and seed vendors took over the front of the water trough, displaying their sale goods on its external walls. Others transformed a hall originally used to house animals into a storage space for their goods.

The water trough is part of the larger complex of Sultan Al-Ashraf Abul-Nasr Qaitbay, the last great sultan of the Mameluke dynasty, who ruled the country between 1468 and 1496 CE.

The repoussé work that forms its lobed, petal-like decoration is typical of the late Mameluke period. The complex includes a mosque, sabil-kuttab (water fountain-Qur’anic school) and a mausoleum.

Researcher Khaled Azab said that water troughs for animals were widespread in Egypt during the Fatimid, Mameluke and Ottoman eras. They were built alone or were attached to larger commercial or religious structures on the main roads of cities, bustling markets, pilgrim routes and caravan routes to Syria and Morocco to serve animals during their travels.

The Qaitbay complex is also a fine example of Mameluke architecture during a period when the decorative arts had reached their zenith.

Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty, describing the restoration project as “great,” told the Weekly that it was carried out under the supervision of the Ministry of Antiquities. The budget was provided by the EU delegation to Egypt within the framework of its Egypt-Europe Cultural Cooperation Programme, with a contribution from the embassy of the Netherlands, he said.

The work was designed and carried out by the Cairo-based architectural practice ARCHiNOS Architecture in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities and the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project.

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, Ministry of Antiquities assistant for Islamic and Coptic monuments, told the Weekly that the trough was part of a funerary and religious complex built by Sultan Qaitbay.

He said the conservation work preserved and protected the authentic historical material without introducing modern additions. Before any work on site began, the building was documented in photographs and drawings and its history studied, he said, adding that this was an essential part of drawing up the conservation plan.

Abdel-Aziz explained that the restoration included the removal of soil. Blocks were cleaned manually with brushes and chisels and harmful salt deposits and the remains of cement plaster were removed while joints were re-filled and missing stones replaced.

The structure’s walls and the foundations were consolidated, while deteriorated and missing blocks were replaced with new ones of the same material, shape and colour. The building’s wooden decorated ceiling was also cleaned and restored.

“The restoration work was carried out in such a way as to preserve and protect the existing historical material without making modern imitations of what has been lost,” director of ARCHiNOS Agnieszka Dobrowolska said, describing it as an important objective to present the authentic material in such a way that it can be understood and appreciated.

During the renovation process, waste and damp soil accumulated inside the building were removed and the original pavements, as well as the water trough for the animals to drink from, were exposed.

To prevent the site from becoming a rubbish dump again, Dobrowolska said the building has been adapted for re-use as a showroom for local traditional craftsmen, so that the people of the neighborhood have a stake in taking care of it.

After restoration, the area is to be converted into a centre for handicrafts to preserve these from extinction. A sales booth is to be provided, as well as a temporary exhibition centre for handicrafts made by local craftsmen.

“We hope that making the building useful for local craftsmen will raise awareness of the importance of the historic heritage within the community and perhaps be a model for the revival of other monuments,” Dobrowolska said.

“Charities providing water troughs for animals to drink from were not as common in Cairo as those building sabils that serve people, but quite a number have been preserved. Sultan Qaitbay built at least three,” said Fathy Khourshid, professor of Islamic history at Minya University.

The long reign of Sultan Qaitbay was the zenith of the Mameluk state, Khourshid added, explaining that the Mameluk sultanate enjoyed prosperous commercial links with Europe, Asia and Africa. “When he died aged 86, Qaitbay left behind no fewer than 230 monuments in Cairo and other cities in Egypt, as well as in Jerusalem, Mecca, Gaza, Damascus and Aleppo,” Khourshid said.

Head of the European Union Delegation to Egypt James Moran said that contributing to the renovation with a grant of 50,000 euros was “great honour” and “another token of the successes we can achieve through Egypt-Europe cooperation.”

He said the European Union is extending a larger hand to the preservation of Egypt’s intangible cultural heritage in the form of support to local arts and craftsmanship in the City of the Dead, a neighbourhood “too often forgotten by visitors and the local and international community.”

Said Moran, “Transforming the building into a handicrafts centre is a breakthrough of particular importance to us. We hope it will be used as a model to open up access to renovated cultural heritage sites across the country.”

He explained that financing the project was one of many initiatives made by the European Union to strengthen the cultural sector in Egypt. Contemporary artists and craftsmen are “invaluable resources” for Egypt’s culture and economy, he said.

“Artists and craftsmen deserve to have the space to be able to create freely to maximise cultural expression. Such diversity is the lifeblood of all successful societies,” Moran added.

He said more restoration projects will be carried out in the near future, among them the restoration of the maqad, the former reception hall or loggia, located opposite the animal water trough, and the only remaining part of Sultan Qaitbay’s palace.

This will be restored and turned into a place for cultural and artistic activities by ARCHiNOS and its partner, the Friends of the Manial Palace Museum, with EU funding, he said.

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