Sunday,21 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)
Sunday,21 April, 2019
Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Historic maqaad reopens

The maqaad Mamay Al-Seifi in Islamic Cairo has been successfully restored and reopened to the public this week, reports Nevine El-Aref

Historic maqaad reopens

Islamic Cairo, listed on UN cultural agency UNESCO’s World Heritage List of outstanding cultural and natural heritage sites worldwide, is the best surviving collection of Islamic monuments in the world, dating from the seventh to the 20th century. 

However, over recent decades environmental pollution, population density and other factors have posed increasing threats to the historic city. In 2002, a rehabilitation project to rescue it was launched, and many buildings and monuments were restored, among them those along historic Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street and its neighbouring alleyways.

Road surfaces were given appropriate treatment and the street furniture was enhanced. Residential houses were given a make-over, bringing them into line with the area’s historical character and urban fabric, and a high-tech drainage system was installed as well as a new lighting system.

In 2010, the area was declared a pedestrian zone where people could enjoy the magnificent Islamic monuments within their original environment and experience the traditions and customs of those who lived during the various periods of the Islamic era.

Historic maqaad reopens

Last Sunday, folk music filled the evening air of Beit Al-Qadi Street in the Gammaliya area of Islamic Cairo as tanoura (whirling dervish) dancers whirled their coloured skirts to the rhythm. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and chair of parliament’s Tourism and Aviation Committee Sahar Mustafa, along with other top officials and Egyptian and foreign journalists, flocked to the maqaad (seat) of prince Mamay Al-Seifi to declare its official inauguration after three years of restoration.

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, head of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, said the restoration had come within the framework of a larger project aimed at conserving seven monumental buildings within a national campaign launched by the Ministry of Antiquities to rescue 100 monuments in Islamic Cairo to a budget of LE10 million.

He said that the aim of the restoration work on the maqaad Mamay Al-Seifi was to strengthen and consolidate the monument and protect it from further damage. The walls were reinforced, cracks were treated, façades were consolidated, missing and decayed stones replaced, and masonry cleaned and desalinated. Broken woodwork was re-installed and missing parts replaced with others of the same shape, size and material.

The ceilings were consolidated and insulated with special material to prevent the leakage of rainwater. Gilded and metal decorative elements were cleaned and consolidated.

Historic maqaad reopens

“The maqaad Mamay Al-Seifi is the most beautiful example of all such preserved ‘seats’ in Islamic Cairo,” Abdel-Aziz told Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that the seat was the only part remaining from the prince’s original palace, used during the former Ottoman Empire and in earlier times as a commercial centre. 

Parts of the palace were demolished in 1897 to build Beit Al-Qadi Street within the framework of the khedive Ismail’s plans for Cairo to be the “Paris of the Orient”. 

The size of the remaining building indicates the enormous size of the original palace. The main façade was at the southeastern end of the street now occupied by the Jewellery and Scales Authority and the Gammaliya Police Station. “The Ministry of Antiquities has now taken over these buildings, and they will be restored and rehabilitated soon,” Abdel-Aziz said.

He said the palace was originally built before the time of prince Mamay, who had renovated it. The architecture of the surviving seat consists of a main façade overlooking Beit Al-Qadi Square composed of two parts. The upper part has five pointed horseshoe arches standing on four marble columns with cylindrical bodies and lotus-flower crowns, while the lower part has three small vaulted rooms. 

Historic maqaad reopens

On the left side of the façade, there is the main entrance leading to two sets of stairs.

Maqaads were vital parts of Islamic Cairo’s traditional houses overlooking their inner courtyards,” Abdel-Aziz said. They were built on the northern side of the houses higher than ground level in order to catch cool breezes. They were mainly used for men to sit in during hot days, but in larger houses two maqaads could co-exist, one for men and one for women. 

Prince Mamay was a Mamluke prince who lived during the reign of Sultan Qaytbay Al-Mahmoudi. He was promoted through the ranks of the Mameluke warrior caste until he became a prince. 

During the reign of Sultan Mohamed Ibn Al-Ashraf Qaytbay, Mamay came into conflict with the authorities and was arrested and later executed. His head was cut off and hung on the Bab Zuweila Gate along with those of other princes on the orders of the sultan. 

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