Al Muizz street. The most happening street of the old Cairo and the address of the most highlighted Qalawun Complex. The complex is a really massive impressive complex and is a well-maintained example of ancient Islamic architecture. It was built by Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun in 1284–1285. 

It is widely considered as one of the leading monuments of Mamluk architecture and Islamic Cairo, noteworthy for the scale and the extent of the richness of its architecture as well as for the charitable operations. The complex includes a hospital (bimaristan), a madrasa and the mausoleum of the Sultan himself. 

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The Qalawun Complex_©


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Facade of Sultan Qalawun’s complex on al-Muizz Street_©

The Qalawun Complex is built over the Fatimid Palace of Cairo ruins. It was handed over to numerous individuals until it was at last bought in 1283 AD by Sultan Qalawun. The structure resides in the Bayn al-Qasrayn and has been an important religious centre for rituals and ceremonies of the Islamic faith for decades, extending from the Mamluk dynasty throughout the Ottoman Empire.


It took around 13 months to build the funerary complex of Sultan al-Mansur Sayf al-Din Qalawun, comprising both mausoleum and madrasa, from 1284–1285. The supervision of the whole building project was overseen by emir ‘Alam al-Din Sanjar al-Shuja‘i al-Mansuri, who forcibly hired Mongol war prisoners and workers from Cairo and Fustat to assist. 

It is claimed by historians that the columns retaining the structure of the mausoleum were made of marble, granite and other materials that were taken from some other palace in Roda Island. The complex was built in three stages, where the Hospital was completed first, the Mausoleum came after that and then the school at last.


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Madrasa wa Qubbat wa Bimaristan al-Sultan Qalawun_©

A moderate horseshoe arched portal leads into a passage separating the madrasah from the mausoleum. The Madrasah, on a cruciform plan, is to the left of the entrance and the tomb is on the right. Inside there are four Iwans which once contained four different law schools. Also on the east side is an exquisite stucco Mihrab

The interiors were in quite a misfortunate condition until the year 2000 when a massive Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project (HCRP) plan was chalked out for the entire Muizz Street. The Mausoleum contains the burial bodies of sultan al-Nasir, his  mother, and his son while he is buried in the contiguous Mausoleum built by his father, Sultan Qalawun

The exterior structure of the Qalawun complex is a classic example of many unique and unparalleled firsts in Mamluk architecture. It is what is said to be the earliest example of Mamluk architecture “Urban aesthetic”. This urban aesthetic begins with the mausoleum and madrasa layout relating to each other. The minaret doesn’t inhabit close to the entrance of the building, as what was a customary and conventional practice of the time. It is also attached to the mausoleum, not to the madrasa. 

The overall effect is the first real coexistence of the minaret with the dome. Fortunately, only certain renovations have been done over the years helping to maintain its grandeur otherwise the funerary complex is still well preserved today.

Something worth observing about the interiors of the respective buildings of the whole complex is proof that its architecture was influenced by Norman Sicilian qualities. One such impact of this is in the triple windows, which are basically ‘two arched openings with a surmounted oculus’ which is found on the mausoleum façade’s upper level. The same placement can be found on the madrasa’s façade. 

The entire façade design with its pointed recess and double-framed arches make us recall the façade of the Palermo Cathedral as it was before the restoration happened. The marble mosaics observed throughout the complex and the large canopy dome are stylistic trends seen in Norman Sicilian architecture.

The mausoleum

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Mihrab of Qalawun’s mausoleum_©

It is said the Mausoleum was never supposed to become a burial site but later on it became the place to host both the Sultan and his son’s body. The mausoleum’s mihrab is considered one of the most lavish of its kind. This is however in stark contrast to the mihrab of the madrasa, which is less grand and impressive in esthetics and size as well. The mihrab is of a horse-shoe profile and is flanked by three marble columns. 

The Mausoleum of Qalawun is of great significance and its dome served as a ceremonial centre for the investing of new emirs. Indeed, the dome was a symbol of new power, signifying a new heart of Mamluk power, changing of the guard, which enjoyed great prosperity and thrive at the time. 

Later on, the Mausoleum’s Dome was demolished by the Ottoman Governor and was then rebuilt in Ottoman architecture. However, another dome was built by the Comite for reservation of Arab monuments to replace that one in 1908.

The madrasa

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The madarsa_©

The madrasa had two recesses and two iwans according to sources. The madrasa’s sanctuary faces the courtyard with a tripartite two-storeyed façade encompassing a central arch which is flanked by two smaller arches, and mounted by analogous arched openings. The madrasa’s mihrab has a horse-shoe arch similar to the mausoleum but is less elaborate, refined and much smaller than that of the mausoleum and its conch is conspicuous with deep red color glass mosaics and mother-of-pearl, and not marble mosaics and it definitely stands out. 

Polychrome marble has been used to pave the large courtyard of the madrasa.

The hospital

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The hospital_©

Although it is not visible from the street now, the hospital once stood as the most impressive and lavish hospital of its time. The hospital operated through the late Ottoman period before it was demolished in 1910. The hospital in addition to medical treatment offered various other amenities to the sick and poor. 

The hospital was constructed from the Sayyidat al-Mulk’s Fatimid palace, and could be entered through a corridor leading from the madrasa and mausoleum. There was a large central courtyard measuring 21x33m and fountains resided within the walls to mark the beauty of the interior of the hospital. 


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Qalawun Complex: The Centre of Religious Ceremonies_©×612&w=0&h=lRSE-3MWZ4BJ_GArBKLSO0P6UTrdy20W-MRxAZo5bqw=

In the reign of al-Nasir Muhammad who was the son and successor of Sultan Qalawun, the structure was restored numerous times. The minarets were restored after a strong earthquake occurred in 1327 AD. Another restoration happened in 1776 when Abdul-Rahman Katkhuda, developed an Ottoman Sabil that was beautifully built on the other side of the street.


Ilma Nafees is a bachelor's student pursuing Architecture from Jamia Millia Islamia. She has a deep interest in the conservation of the built heritage and the mysteries of Ancient Egypt. She believes writing an architectural content would enhance the understanding of the discipline better as architecture is the art of changing people’s life.

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