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



The current relationship of the cemetery of Sayyidi Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti to the city is a paradox. It lies at the convergence of Cairo’s two main highways – Salah Salim and the Autostrade and immediately south of Maydan al-Sayyida ‘A’isha, one of Cairo’s busiest transportation nodes. Its domes and minarets are visible, yet it is extremely difficult to enter because its access points are hidden. The contrast between the serenity of its inner spaces – open burial grounds with cenotaphs framed by the facades of the funerary enclosures (hawshs) and crowned by the monuments’ towering domes and minarets – and the visual and auditory noise of the commercial and residential structures on its peripheries adds to the paradox. How did this come about?
This section goes back in history to the inception of Cairo in the 4th/10th century to trace the urban development of this area looking at changes in its urban fabric and topography and situating them within the history of the cemeteries in particular and the city in general.
The aim of this section is to contextualize the value of the listed monuments, which are the only protected structures in this cemetery, within their socio-urban setting. A more multi-layered map of value emerges in which it is clear that these buildings cannot be understood in isolation from the surroundings. It is not simply that much of the land now occupied by seemingly unimportant modern structures holds within it the foundations of the extinct sections of these monuments and the graves that used to lie within their funerary enclosures. It is also because they are repositories of memory of the urban practices that gave life and meaning to these older structures and continue to take place in the more modern structures and public spaces. Furthermore, the urban fabric and street configuration is in itself of historical value with some of the streets described in the Ayyubid and Mamluk ziyara books still remaining.
Most importantly, this review dispels the myth that the multi-functionality of the cemetery is a modern phenomenon. The story of the mix of funerary activities with a sports field, then religious structures with residential and service spaces, then a commercial market unfolds in a clear sequence that seamlessly leads to the current situation.