Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1392, (3 - 9 May 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1392, (3 - 9 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

From mosque to museum

The pulpit of the Abu Bakr Al-Muzhir Mosque is now on display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat, reports Nevine El-Aref

Restorers at the NMEC

Almost a week after its transfer from its original location in the Abu Bakr Al-Muzhir Mosque in the Bergwan Alley in the Gammaliya district of Islamic Cairo, the Abu Bakr Al-Muzhir’s pulpit is now at its new display in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) in the Cairo district of Fustat.

The pulpit was subjected to restoration at the Citadel Laboratory for Wooden Artefacts before its second transfer to the NMEC under the supervision of the Projects Department and the Department of Maintenance and Restoration of the Ministry of Antiquities.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who was on site following the reassembling of the pulpit, said that no other such pulpits would be transferred from mosques, except those in dire need like the Al-Muzhir pulpit that was threatened by the high level of subterranean water inside the mosque and the instability of the mosque’s structure.

Gharib Sonbol, head of Maintenance and Restoration at the ministry, said the relocation was necessary because the pulpit was not only suffering from the high level of ground water due to heavy rain and a weak drainage system, but some parts of its decoration and wooden body were suffering from biological infection. 

According to scientific analyses, parts of the pulpit were infested with insects, but restorers had managed to treat these parts and the pulpit was now safe and sound.

Sonbol said that the restoration of the pulpit was carried out according to international standards and it was now protected and preserved at the NMEC. Waziri called on members of the public to visit the NMEC in order to see this distinguished Mameluke pulpit.

The pulpit after restoration and reassembling

Early last week, the relocation of the pulpit from its original location in the mosque was subject to a ferocious controversy. Opponents claimed that the transfer was a step towards the removal of 55 other pulpits from mosques to be stowed in the Ministry of Antiquities’ galleries, which they described as “irreparable damage and the obliteration of the mosques’ artistic value”.

Supporters said that no more pulpits would be relocated and removing the Al-Muzhir pulpit from its original location was the only solution to prevent irreparable damage.

The pulpit belongs to a mosque built by Abu Bakr Al-Muzhir, head of the diwan (government) during the reign of the Mameluke sultan Al-Ashraf Abul-Nasr Qaitbay. 

The mosque was built in 1480 CE and has a rectangular shaped madrassa (school) with a wooden ceiling and a shokhshekha (wooden dome with holes). It has four iwans (vaulted halls) with marble floors decorated with geometric painted elements. It also has two façades and a unique wooden minbar, gates and cupboards. At the end of the qibla iwan (prayer hall) there is a sabil (water fountain).

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, supervisor of the Historic Cairo Conservation Project, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the structure of the madrassa and mosque was in a very bad condition, a fact that has led to its closure for more than five years. Cracks have spread in its walls, which are suffering from humidity and decay. 

Three parts of the metal decorative elements of the mosque’s wooden gates were stolen a few weeks ago.

As a result, it was necessary to relocate the Al-Muzhir Mosque’s minbar (pulpit) in an attempt to protect it not only from theft but also from the unstable building and high humidity and heat. “The minbar is unique and is the only Mameluke minbar that still exists with all its architectural and decorative elements intact,” Abdel-Aziz said.

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