Islamic Area Studies Group 5
Report on the 6th Seminar of Group a

Urban Space and Architectural Culture in the Middle East


Monumentalizing Piety:
Religious Practices and Mamluk Architecture

Priscilla P. SOUCEK (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University)


Date: December 9, 2000

Place: Institute of Oriental Culture, The University of Tokyo


The Mamluks, who had driven away the Crusaders and defeated Mongolian forces in ヤAyn Jalut, saw themselves as advocates of Islam and successors of the Abbasid dynasty which had been destroyed by the Mongols in 1258.


When Salih Ayyub, the first acting Mamluk monarch, built the Salih Najm al-Din Madrasa in Cairo in 1243, he was introducing to the city the new religious and architectural concept of the madrasa, making use of Fatimid architectural technology and styles. Since then, the Mamluk monarchs established themselves as patrons of religious architecture. These new buildings served not only as places of worship for Mamluks, newly converted to Islam, but as means to obtain support from the community and to ensure the economic stability of their descendants. The Salih Najm al-Din Madrasa includes the tomb of its founder after his wife, Shajar al-Dur (the actual first Mamluk monarch), ordered it added to the premises. The madrasa thereby took on a new significance, that of serving the Mamluks as a reminder of their loyalty to their monarch.


Early Mamluk architecture beginning with the Salih Najm al-Din Madrasa embodied military pride, specifically glorifying their triumph over the Crusades. Therefore, these structures can be said to constitute the メheroic phaseモ in Mamluk architecture. This trend is specially prominent in the Qalawun Complex constructed in 1284-1285, in which the fa溝de was modelled after that of the Crusade fort Crac des Chevaliers, the ground plan symbolically alludes to that of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and the mihrab of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus was reproduced. Both the Madrasa of Nasir Muhammad (1303) and Khanqah of Baybars (1310) belong to the メheroic phase,モ but by that time, a sprouting of the メpersonalモ elements characterizing the next phase in Mamluk architecture could be seen.


In the latter half of the 14th century, epidemics and economic collapse turned the people towards the search for personal spiritual salvation, and there was a rise in religious interest. Much importance was placed on the Qurユan and Sufism. As a result, madrasas also began to take on the characteristics of residential structures: the number of small private rooms increased, ornamentation increased and interior courtyards were incorporated.


The Barquq Khanqah-Madrasa (1386) is decorated with numerous Qurユanic inscriptions and interior decoration similar to the designs seen in the illuminated pages of Qurユan manuscripts, and other various styles of ornamentation. The living quarters consist of three floors. Private spaces were created in the upper floors, and large rooms were designated for the family of the founder. Residential elements had begun to predominate over the religious elements. In the Qaytbay Complex (built in 1472-1474) this fusion of religious and residential buildings was further emphasized. In summary it can be concluded that the religious attitude of the patron himself was directly reflected in Mamluk architecture.


(By Tomoko MASUYA)