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

Mausoleum of Sudun al-Ajami

This domed mausoleum lies immediately north of al-Sawabi and there is evidence from older photographs and maps and from the architectural remains that both were enclosed within a larger walled enclosure that stretched further west. In fact, it seems that the so-called Iwan Rayhan  is a re-modelled section of this older enclosure.

Established by Sudun al-'Ajami, amir majlis under Sultan al-Ghuri, it  has also been called the shrine of Abu Sibha although it is not clear when it came to be known as such, or who Abu Sibha was. It has also been incorrectly identified as the shrine of al-Ghuri because of the medallions on it exterior that bear his name.

It is dated to c. 910/1504.

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The Dome of Sayf al-Din Sudun (910/1504)

Monument no. 294

Identification and Dating:

Alternative names: Sudun Min Zada; Sudun al-‘Ajami; Abu Sibha; Al-Ghuri

This domed mausoleum lies immediately north of al-Sawabi and there is evidence from older photographs and maps and from the architectural remains that both were enclosed within a larger walled enclosure that stretched further west. In fact, it seems that the so-called Iwan Rayhan is a re-modeled section of this older enclosure.

An inscription identifies the founder as Sayf al-Din Sudun, amir majlis under Sultan al-Ghuri. The building also has medallions in the name of al-Ghuri, which is probably why it was first mis-identified by the Comité as the dome of al-Ghuri.

According to ibn Iyas, who gives his full name as Sudun al-‘Ajami (d. 922/1511), he held this position on and off from 908/1502 to 917/1511/1504 when he was appointed amir silah. Van Berchem and Creswell after him were the first to identify the founder based on Ibn Iyas’s text. Meinecke correctly calls the founder Sudun al-‘Ajami. Rizq, on the other hand, names him Sudun min Zada mentioning that he was killed by the invading Ottomans in the battle of Marj Dabiq near Aleppo, Syria. There is a general consensus on dating this monument to c. 910/1504.

The Taqarir Nazar also mention a “Turbat Sudun al-‘Ajami wa sabilihi” (mausoleum and sabil of Sudun al-‘Ajami), which shows that it used to have a sabil.

It is also called the shrine of Abu Sibha in the Comité map of the area of Sawabi and Sudun with the surrounding graves. It is not clear when it came to be known as such, or who Abu Sibha was. Abu’l-‘Amayim wrongly identifies Abu Sibha as the Sahib al-Misbaha mentioned in the ziyara books although the books place his grave north of al-Shafi’I close to the tomb of al-Muzani.. Qasim gives his name as Shaykh al-Salawi Sahib al-Sibha.

Foundation History:

Not much is known of its foundation history. The name of the founder is inscribed on the building interior and the founder’s rank is indicated on his blazon which is repeated along the Quranic inscription around the exterior of the drum of the dome and also along the tiraz band in the interior. The upper field contains a napkin, the middle field a cup between two horns and the lower field a second cup. The mistaken identification of this dome as that of al-Ghuri comes from the highly conspicuous inclusion of the sultan’s name in the foundation inscription. The name of Abu Sibha must come from the identification of the dome with a man of religion of that name that came to occupy it or use it later.


The structure is an excellent example of a fully evolved late Burji Mamluk mausoleum. What remains of it now is the domed mausoleum. Although the dome lies along the southwestern side of al-Qarafa al-Kubra Street, entrance is through the funerary enclosure not the street. This probably indicates that the dome was part of a larger structure which had a separate monumental entrance from the street. This hypothesis is strengthened by 19th century photographic images of this structure which show a gateway with a trilobed arch immediately northwest of the dome. The dome entrance itself is in the middle of its southwestern façade and is typical of the Burji Mamluk period. The rectangular two-leaf door is flanked by two short mastabas and enclosed within a recess with a trilobed hood. A small window tops the door. A knotted jift interlacing typical of the late Mamluk period frames the composition. On both sides of the entrance are two identical plain rectangular recesses, each containing a rectangular window with a tripartite composition (oculus flanked by two arched windows) above. The windows are currently blocked with rubble masonry. The rectangular block was crowned with crenellations of which some remains can still be seen.

The stone dome’s chevron pattern above a plain cylindrical drum with 16 arched windows is typical of the late Mamluk period. The transitional zone transforms the square shape of the body of the dome to an octagon. The outer surface of the corner triangles takes on an undulating shape while the straight sides consist of a central arrangement of three arched windows topped by three oculi flanked by two medallions with al-Ghuri’s name and all framed with knotting.

The qibla façade is partially hidden by the pre-existing dome of al-Sawabi. The windows to the left of the mihrab slant horizontally towards the corner so as not to be blocked by the walls of al-Sawabi. The fact that Sudun had to fit his dome in this tight location indicates that land was scarce in this cemetery by the end of the Mamluk period and that it was still popular with high-ranking Mamluks.

The same arrangement can be seen on all the windows of the northwestern wall opposite and in this case they slanted outwards to avoid an interior space that probably belonged to the Sudun Complex but has since disappeared. 19th century images show a walled space with a tripartite window similar to that on the upper tiers of the Sudun Dome. Immediately northwest of it is a blocked rectangular opening of what was probably the sabil of Sudun then an entrance portal then northwest of that, another dome that Muhammad Abu’l-‘Amayim has identified as the mausoleum of Khwand Samra, the wife of Sultan al-Ashraf Sha’ban (r. 764-778) built in 779/1377. A series of photographic images by Teynard, Frith and Laurent, and discussed in detail by Abu’l-‘Amayim, show the dome standing in 1851 and almost completely collapsed by the 1860s.

The street façade has a simple tripartite arrangement. A shallow rectangular niche crowned with 2 rows of stalactites encloses within it a lower row of three rectangular windows (currently blocked) and an upper row of two tripartite windows (oculus flanked by two arched windows) with a larger oculus in the middle.

The northwestern façade has two shallow recesses enclosing within them a lower rectangular window and an upper tripartite window. They flank an upper circular window. It is noteworthy that the recess on the street side is crowned with two rows of stalactites like that of the street façade while that on the hawsh side is plain like those of the entrance façade. The more elaborate treatment in which the recess is crowned with stalactites was kept for the external sections of the dome (seen from the street as the dome protruded from the line of the pre-existing dome of al-Sawabi and the extinct entrance block and dome to the north) while the plainer arrangement is for the interiors. This is further proof that the dome was a part of a larger enclosure whose entrance abutted the north-western façade.

Older images from the west looking east show that the domes of Sudun and al-Sawabi and Iwan Rayhan were all enclosed within one wall. It has also been shown that Iwan Rayhan is an Ottoman retrofit of an older Mamluk structure and that the shallow domes of this pre-existing structure have been seen in other later Mamluk buildings. It has also been shown that the entrance of the dome of al-Sawabi was changed from the north-western side (which was blocked by Sudun’s tomb) to the hawsh side when Sudun’s tomb was built. All this could indicate that Sudun co-opted the entire hawsh and turned it into his own funerary enclosure. A street entrance to the northwest with the sabil next to it led to an enclosure with the two domes on the north-eastern side and the structure that was converted into Iwan Rayhan on the south-western side.

The mausoleum displays three types of inscriptions. The first is the foundation inscription which is a band placed in the interior across the four walls of the mausoleum. The inscription reads: “Basmala, Quran 2:255 (throne verse), has ordered the construction of this blessed place through the grace of God most High and His abundant universal generosity his Excellency the noble, the eminent, the lofty, the lordly, the great amir, the lord, the authority, the sovereign, the masterful, the revered, the magnanimous, the methodical, the steadfast, the bountiful, the magnanimous, the support, the one who fasts, the ascetic, the worshipper (of God), the pious, the god fearing, Sayf al-Din Sudun amir of the council of the Egyptian lands  for al-Malik al-Ashraf (al-Ghuri)”. The second is in the medallions each displaying, on three lines, the titles of al-Ghuri: “1-Abu al-Nasr Qansuh al-Ghuri 2-Glory to our lord the Sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf 3-May his victory be glorified. The third inscription type is Quranic which includes 3:185, 44:51-57, 36:1-11, 36:52, 17:84, and 2:255. They are located above the mastabas flanking the entrance door, above the door itself and the windows of the entrance façade, and around the drum of the dome.

The interior of the dome is plain and it is carried on a transitional zone of 9 tiers of stalactite pendentives. A tiraz band marks the junction between the rectangular block and the transitional zone. Of the three unidentified cenotaphs in the interior of the dome, one has remains of thuluth inscription in the corners. The stones of the interior follow a bichrome tashhir colour scheme and grooves immediately below the upper windows must have held the ends of wooden tie beams from which lamps were hung. The qibla wall is relatively plain. The mihrab is arched and the tympanum contains the word Allah in bi-chrome stone. It was flanked by columns which are no longer in place. There is a blocked window to the left of the mihrab and a niche to the right. The side to the right only contains a niche because it is blocked from the outside by the dome of al-Sawabi. The upper windows are slanted towards the corners to avoid the dome and let light in.

Later History:

As has been shown above, by the beginning of the Ottoman period, one section of the complex was converted into the maqsura of Nawruz. The map of the Description de l’Egypte and later 19th century images show that the Sudun, Sawabi and Nawriz continued to function as a walled enclosure well into the 19th century. The entrance block and sabil lasted until the 1860s after which they collapsed. By the time the Comite took note of it in 1893, it was known as Abu Sibha and the Comite wrongly identified it as al-Ghuri after settling on the correct name of Sudun, probably after Van Berchem’s study of its inscriptions.

The dome was repaired in 1902, more conservation works were carried out in the 1920s and 30s, which was probably when the Comite cleared the buildings around Sudun and Sawabi. The Mahfuzat records of the 1940s document a series of attempts by the area’s turabis to continue to bury in the dome and the Comite’s action to thwart them. A minor masonry conservation project was also carried out.

Detailed account of restoration works in the Comité Bulletins and the Mahfuzat Records (SCA, Mahfuzat, Qubbat Sudun, file no. 294





Comite XI, 1894, p. 69

Under list of monuments of “Environs du Caire” in Karafa el-Kobra (sic.) known under Tombeaux des Mameloukes

Tomb of Abu Sibha (Sudun?), built at the time of al-Ghuri: To build stone crenellations, arch above the door of the dome, a door and grill.


XI, 1894, p. 78-9. 133

Due to the urgency of the works to be executed in the “monuments aux environs de la ville”, it is vital that Awqaf investigate who their owners are. The list of monuments with no owners & their turabiyya include:

Abu Sibha & Sawabi: turabi: Mohammed Sa’doun


XII, 1895, p. 10-13

In request for funding from Khedive to restore ownerless monuments estimate for repairs in Sudun (called Abu Sibha)  is LE 90.


1902, p. 58

Still called Abu Sibha. Estimated cost: 100 LE  Strengthening is urgently needed. A part of the building threatens to collapse in ruins.


1906, p. 55

Still called Abu Sibha. The repairs of this cupola undertaken in 1902 were under contract with the local contractor, Ali Mohamed. He signed the contract to guard it on 7 March 1903. In a written request of last December 16, Ali Mohamed requested to be paid for this service. The Technical Section believes that it is in the interest of preserving the monuments to pay those who take care of them. Following this line of thought, we propose to ask the General Administration of Wakfs to provide the Committee with the necessary resources. It seems completely reasonable under the circumstances to apply the receipts of the entry fees to the monuments to this end.



Masonry wall blocking one of the window openings collapsed. This is a good chance to unblock the windows and replace them with window grilles according to the original design. It was decided to put the fallen stone blocks temporarily inside the dome until a decision had been made.



Preliminary bill of quantities (not sure of the project was implemented)

  1. Removal of earth to the depth of 2M (10 M3)
  2. Sub-flooring concrete (60 M2)
  3. Stone tiles 5 cm thickness ma’sarani (85 M2)
  4. Stone tiles 10 cm thickness hajjari (8 M2)
  5. Carved stone borders (5 linear M)
  6. Cleaning cenotaph inside dome with Potash
  7. Entrance door (1 item)

Total estimated cost LE 30

9/3/1938 19/3/1938


1 month restoration project carried out by the contractor Sa’d al-Din Effendi Nusayr at a cost of LE 24.032. Works include:

  1. Debris removal (1.99 M3)
  2. Concrete slab under floor tiles (20.04 M2)
  3. Stone tiles ma’sarani (thin) (73.31 M2)
  4. Dismantling of stone borders (10.01 M2)
  5. Refixing of dismantled stone borders (6.79 M2)
  6. Fixing new stone borders (1.54 M2)
  7. Stone tiles hajjari  (thick) (8.58 M2)



Ahmad Sa’dun had allowed Muhammad Bek Zaki to bury inside the dome of Sudun. Athar were investigating the matter an recommended that care of the monuments be given to another turabi, Muhammad Abu Sibha.  The burial permit was incorrect because it was for al-Ghuri Dome (it seems this was an inadvertent mistake because of the mix-up of names). It finally turned out that ‘Abd al-Khaliq Sa’dun, not Ahmad, was the turabi in charge.



Request by Yusuf Effendi Bahjat for permission to bury on Sudun dome denied. All burial is banned but visitation of existing burials is allowed.



Governorate responded to a query from al-Athar about the turabi in charge of Sudun. Turabi is not Ahmad Sa’dun (who had claimed he was the caretaker and as such had been given keys to the dome by the Athar). It is ‘Abd al-Khaliq Sa’dun. Accordingly the keys were changed and a copy given to ‘Abd al-Khaliq. He is also required to sign a legal document that he will not bury in either Sudun or Sawabi.



Turabi ‘Abd al-Khaliq Sa’dun is made to sign a cease and desist order not to bury in Sudun Dome.



Dome needs grouting and dismantling and refixing of tiles above grave entrance. Estimated cost LE3.



Final accounts of Sudun Amir Majlis project located in “Qarafat ‘Arab al-Yasar”. Included the following:

  1. Grouting and repointing with cement mortar (.35 M3)
  2. Dismantling of stone tiles above manzal (entrance) of grave (1.93M2)
  3. Re-fixing of stone tiles above manzal of grave (1.93M2)

Total cost: LE 2.743



Lieutenant Muhammad  ‘Ali al-Birri encroached on the monument buffer zone and and built a hawsh adjacent to the dome without permission from the Athar.  It should be demolished.



Abu al-‘Amayim, M. “Al-mi’dhana al-qibliyya wa ma hawlaha min athar kharij bab al-qarafa b’il-qahira,” Annales Islamologiques, 34, (2000), pp.66-7

Creswell, K. A. C., “A brief chronology of the Muhammadan monuments of Egypt to A.D. 1517”, BIFAO Vol. XVI (1919), p. 153

Ibn al-‘Imad. ‘Abd al-Hayy b. Ahmad, Shadharat al-Dhahab fi Akhabr man Dhahab, (Beirut, n.d.), v. 10. P. 93

Ibn Iyas, Muhammad b. Ahmad, Bada’i’ al-zuhur fi waqa’i’ al-duhur (Istanbul, 1931), p. 40 ff.

Al-Ibrashy, May, The history of the Southern Cemetery of Cairo from the 14th century to the present; an urban study of a living cemetery (Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of London, 2005).

Meinecke, Mikael. Die mamlukische Architektur in Ägypten und Syrien (648/1250 bis 923/1517) (Glückstadt, 1992) p. 453

Nuwaysir, Husni, Madrasat al-Amir Sudun min Zada: Madrasa ‘al namat al-madaris al-Jarkasiyya (Cairo, 1985)

O’Kane, Bernard. Islamic Inscriptions Project, The American University in Cairo.

Rizq, Asim.  Aṭlas al-‘imara al-islamiyya wa-al-qibtiyya bil-qahira (Cairo, 2003) pp. 1819-29

SCA, Mahfuzat files, Qubbat Sudun (no. 294).

Williams, Caroline. Islamic Monuments in Cairo: A Practical Guide (Cairo, 1999) p. 128

Taqarir Nazar Qadim 19, entry no. 102, p. 11 (Dar al-Watha’iq al-Qawmiyya)

Van Berchem, Max, Materiaux pour un Corpus inscriptionum Arabicarum, (1900-3) v. 1, pp. 584-6