Saturday,23 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)
Saturday,23 March, 2019
Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Mameluke mosque to be restored

The Al-Tunbagha Al-Mardani Mosque in Islamic Cairo is to be restored and rehabilitated after years of neglect, writes Nevine El-Aref

Polio examining the mosque

Twenty months after its inspection to ascertain its state of conservation, the Al-Tunbagha Al-Mardani Mosque in the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area of Islamic Cairo is to be restored.

Earlier this week, the Ministry of Antiquities and the Aga Khan Cultural Services-Egypt (AKCs-E) signed a memorandum of understanding to restore and rehabilitate the mosque and the creation of visitor routes around the area’s monuments.

The memorandum came 20 months after a visit by French expert Christophe Polio of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP) to examine the condition of the mosque as a step towards drawing up a plan for its restoration.

The mosque has problems due to erosion. There is a high level of humidity and accumulated salts on its walls due to the leakage of water from nearby streets. Its location in a busy residential area has added to its deterioration due to the negative behaviour of area inhabitants. It was also subject to poor restoration practices in 1896 by the Arab Heritage Conservation Committee, responsible for Islamic monuments in Egypt at the time.

After his inspection tour in 2016, Polio told Al-Ahram Weekly that the prayer hall (iwan al-qibla) was the most damaged part of the mosque and needed to be completely rehabilitated. Cracks had spread over the walls and its woodwork and marble were in a very bad condition.

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, supervisor of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project, told the Weekly that according to the memorandum the restoration work would be carried out as a joint venture between the AKCS-E and its affiliate Mezala for Social Development, Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Community Development and the Ministry of Antiquities.

It would provide for the rehabilitation of the mosque and the activation of visitor circuits alongside major cultural and archaeological attractions in the district, leading to the creation of employment opportunities and income-generating activities for residents and businesses.

Abdel-Aziz explained that the work would last for 26 months and focus on three major aspects: the conservation of the eastern side of the mosque; the creation of visitor routes extending from the northern tip of Al-Azhar Park towards Al-Darb Al-Ahmar through the historic Ayyubid Walls and the Bab Al-Wazir Gate; and the creation of employment and economic improvements through the promotion of local crafts related to the increased visitation of the area.

The façade of Al-Tunbagha Al-Mardani Mosque

Sherif Erian, chief executive of AKCS-E, said that the full success of the project could only be achieved through the strict observance of certain fundamental principles by the parties and their designated affiliates, which would need to agree on the need for the protection and celebration of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar.

“This can be achieved through balancing the physical rehabilitation with social, economic, cultural and recreational expectations,” Erian said.

“Embedding the proposed strategy for increasing visitation levels for Al-Darb Al-Ahmar is another aspect of the project,” Abdel-Aziz told the Weekly, adding that this would be implemented through visitor routes, the creation of a visitor centre, and improved landscaping around the centre.

The installation of efficient infrastructure supporting the visitor routes, such as public conveniences, lighting, signage, and security systems accompanied by CCTV cameras, would also be important, he said.

The Al-Tunbagha Al-Mardani Mosque was built in the style of congregational (Friday) mosques and is located just outside the Bab Zuweila Gate in Islamic Cairo by the Mameluke emir Al-Tunbagha Al-Mardani during the reign of his father-in-law the Sultan Al-Nasir Mohamed.

The mosque has a hypostyle plan similar to the Mosque of Al-Nasser in the same area, and its outer walls are decorated in typical Mameluke style. At the time of its building, it was one of the most extravagantly decorated mosques in Cairo, with a distinguished octagonal minaret and large dome, as well as other architectural innovations.

The mosque now has a court surrounded by four aisles. The deepest and largest is the one in the direction of prayer. In the centre of the nave there is an octagonal fountain covered with marble. The façade of the northern aisle is covered with marble inscribed with the date of construction. The rest of the prayer-direction wall is covered with a fine marble dado, or panel, inlaid with mother of pearl.

The mosque has three entrances and a dome supported by eight granite pillars. Sultan Al-Nasser Mohamed’s masterbuilder Al-Muallim Al-Soyoufi supervised the construction work of the mosque, whose wood and marble decorative elements cost about 15,000 dirhams at the time, with total expenditure reaching over 300,000 dirhams, an enormous amount in the period.

Al-Mardani was Sultan Al-Nasser Mohamed’s favoured cupbearer and married his daughter. He was appointed chief of the Cairo police, making him a senior emir in the Mameluke system. He continued in power in the reigns of Sultan Mohamed’s successors, dying in 1343 in Aleppo where he had been appointed as the city’s governor.

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