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Cairo's Historic Cemetery of al-Suyuti Conflicting Claims.

Welcome to Our Site

The aim of this project is to complete a thoroughgoing study of a section of the Cairene cemetery that produces a visual record of change and that functions as a scholarly model for studying areas of conflicting interests. Specific to Cairo, of course, our research project has regional applications throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Made possible by a Getty Collaborative Research Grant and administered by the University of California, LA, this is a collaborative research project whereby scholars from different disciplines research the history of the cemetery and monument zone of Sayyidi Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti from a number of perspectives.

A first outcome is a thorough documentation of this monument zone, both of the architecture of its monuments and the surrounding urban fabric and a historical study of its development through time. A second outcome is a methodology for the study of contested multi-functional historical zones in Egypt and the region. Results are disseminated via this website.

The historic cemetery of Cairo is a condensed, complex and extreme example of other cases of multifunctional cemeteries. Its study can potentially contribute significant insight into what is a regional urban type. Furthermore its study feeds into the more universal issue of how to understand and represent historic areas where conflicting claims of history, art, religion, social and economic necessity are at play.
This extraordinary cemetery, described as a significant site in the Egyptian government decree declaring Islamic Cairo as a world heritage site, is not within the official borders of the world heritage site. Even more incredible is the fact that to this very day, no cadastral maps of the cemetery, definitive maps of ownership or rent, or even an official population count exist. Furthermore, the majority of its listed buildings are poorly documented and are outside the focus of almost all ongoing conservation projects in Islamic Cairo, whether local or international.
It is not possible to include the whole cemetery (which includes over 120 listed monuments within close to 6 sq. km) within this project. Therefore, one section of it has been chosen as a pilot study, al-Suyuti cemetery. Al-Suyuti Cemetery (normally referred to as Tombs of the Mamluks in western travel literature) is the north-eastern section of the southern cemetery, the oldest of Cairo’s cemeteries. Its area contains nine monuments and what we term an infill of tombstones, cenotaphs, streets and squares. The monuments are:

- Mausoleum of Badr al-Din al-Qarafi (founder Aydughmish Amir Akhur - pre 1323; mon. no. 297)
- Funerary complex of Sayf al-Din Qusun (c. 1330; mon. nos. 290, 291, 293)
- Mausoleum of al-Sawabi (founder Sawab al-Din Rukni – pre 1335; mon. no. 296)
- Mausoleum of al-Sultaniyya (founder Mother of Sultan Nasir Hasan – r. 1356-2; mon. no. 288, 289)
- Mausoleum of Sudun al-‘ajami (c. 1505; mon. no. 294)
- Iwan Rayhan (founder Nawruz Kikhya al-Jawishiyya – 1534; mon. no. 297)
- Mosque of Masih Pasha (1575, mon. no. 160)
- Mausoleum of Mustafa Agha Jaliq (1667, mon. no. 295)
- Mausoleum of Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (1796-7; not listed)

This two-year study is a collaborative effort between three scholars whose multi-disciplinary experiences encompass the fields of art and architectural history, urban history, epigraphy and conservation. One of the core members has written her PhD dissertation on the cemetery of Cairo. All three have worked both individually and collectively on subjects that touch on the issues at hand such as: implementation of conservation projects in the cemetery of Cairo, studies of cemeteries in other temporal and culture frameworks, and supervision of PhD dissertations that touch on issues of sacred geography and cemeteries. During the first year of the project, these Core Members collaborated with six Associate Scholars from other fields (history, law, religion, social anthropology, archaeology and popular culture) and the result was a mapping, survey and architectural documentation of the area and its significant buildings (carried out by the core team), in addition to reports by the associate team members (each on their area of specialization). During the second year, the material was synthesized, to be disseminated through this website.