Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1418, (15 - 21 November 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1418, (15 - 21 November 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Restoring Mameluke heritage

Restoration work at the Al-Tunbagha Al-Maridani Mosque in Cairo has started after years of negligence, reports Nevine El-Aref


Restoration work at Al-Maridani Mosque and its architectural elements

In the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area of Islamic Cairo within an area rich in Mameluke and Ottoman edifices stands the Al-Tunbagha Al-Maridani Mosque with its distinguished architectural style reflecting part of Mameluke history.

Last week, Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany and Sherif Erian, director of the Aga Khan Cultural Services-Egypt (AKCs-E), embarked on an inspection tour of the mosque to check the restoration work being carried out five months after the signature of a memorandum of understanding between the ministry and AKCs-E to restore and rehabilitate the mosque and create a visitor route through the area.

The work is financed by a grant of LE30 million from the European Union, and according to the memorandum the restoration work will only include the mosque’s eastern iwan (hall) to be completed in 2020.

Restoration work at Al-Maridani Mosque and its architectural elements

El-Enany said the mosque had various problems due to erosion and the high level of humidity and accumulated salts on its walls due to the leakage of water from the neighbouring area. Its location in a busy residential street has added to its deterioration, and poor restoration practices by the Arab Heritage Conservation Committee in the late 19th century had added to the problems.

He said that cooperation with the AKCs-E as a main partner to restore the mosque with funds provided by the European Union could announce further work in the rest of the mosque. El-Enany also said that there should be more golf carts in the area so that visitors could see monuments set aside in small alleys.

Erian said the project aimed not only at restoring the mosque, but also at promoting the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar monuments by providing visiting routes from the northern side of Al-Azhar Park and round the Ayoubid walls. He said that these would help provide more job opportunities for young people, and that this would also have a positive impact on incomes through the promotion of the area’s handicrafts.

He said the success of the project could only be achieved through the strict observance of certain 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 the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area.

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

In 2016, almost 20 months before signing the memorandum of understanding, French expert Christophe Polio of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP) arrived in Cairo to examine the condition of the mosque as a step towards drawing up a plan for its restoration.

After his inspection tour, Polio told Al-Ahram Weekly that the prayer hall (iwan al-qibla) was the most damaged part of the mosque and that it 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-general 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, the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Community Development Association, 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, he said.

Abdel-Aziz explained that the work would last until 2020 and focus on three major aspects: the conservation of the eastern iwan 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 Ayoubid walls and the Bab Al-Wazir Gate; and the creation of employment through the promotion of local crafts.

Khaled El-Enany

“Embedding the proposed strategy for increasing visitor levels in 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.

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

The Al-Tunbagha Al-Maridani Mosque is built in the style of congregational (Friday) mosques and is located just outside the Bab Zuweila Gate in Islamic Cairo. It was commissioned by the Mameluke emir Al-Tunbagha Al-Maridani during the reign of his father-in-law, Sultan Al-Nasser 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. It was once 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 courtyard 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, but only one is now open, and a dome supported by eight granite pillars. Sultan Al-Nasser Mohamed’s master builder 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-Maridani 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 in Syria where he had been appointed the city’s governor.

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