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


The currently extant remains of five Mamluk funerary complexes – the turbas of al-Sawabi, al-Qarafi, Qusun, al-Sultaniyya and Sudun - are the result of a building frenzy in this area that started during the reign of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad and culminated in the construction of at least 15 funerary turbas belonging to prominent Mamluk amirs. While interest dwindled in the Ottoman period, the northern periphery still has the mosque of Masih Pasha, a curious historical footnote illuminating the relationship between political power (Ottoman governor Masih Pasha) and religious influence (Sufi Shaykh Nur al-Din al-Qarafi for whom the mosque was built). One last Ottoman monument, Mustafa Agha Jaliq is a small canopy tomb with a wealth of archival documentation behind it.
This review of the listed monuments of al-Suyuti Cemetery utilizes a variety of sources to present individual analytical descriptions illuminating the layered history and value of these buildings.
The value of these monuments goes beyond their importance as artefacts from the past that inform us on building styles, materials and techniques. They are monuments to a way of life in which the cemetery was a home to Cairo’s religious scholars and students who lived in its madrasas, zawiyas and khanqahs. Although only the domes and minarets remain of what used to be impressive structures that in the case of Qusun for example, included a mosque, madrasa, hammam and service buildings, the urban fabric still reflects the bygone structures. They are therefore proof that the living in the cemetery is a historical fact, not the modern phenomenon its detractors claim it to be.