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

Iwan Rayhan

All we know of this monument is what is written on the inscription frieze running around the interior which describes the building as a maqsura (loggia?) with burial crypts and names the founder as al-Amir Nawruz Kikhya al-Jawishiyya and puts the construction date at 941 H. We also know from the physical evidence that it was an older building (part of the Sudun/Sawabi enclosure) that had been altered to accommodate Nawruz’s funerary maqsura and that it stretched further north and/or south. We also know from verbal communication from the neighbourhood and from the Comité map of this monument zone that Shaykh Rayhan was previously in the adjacent hawsh (to the north) and that it was recently moved. Qasim identified this building as the shrine of Sana & Thana in his annotations to Sakhawi’s Tuhfat. This identification was recently revived and graffiti has appeared on the walls guiding the visitor to this shrine and identifying it as Sana and Thana.

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Iwan Rayhan (941/1534)

Monument no. 297

Identification and dating:

Alternative names: Maqsura of Nawruz Kikhya al-Jawishiyya/Shawishiyya (sometimes misnamed Fayruz), Liwan al-Shaykh (or Sayyidi) Rayhan.

This building is popularly known as Iwan Rayhan and was identified as such in the documents of the records of the Comité. It is also still known locally by that name. Rayhan seems to have been a popular religious figure who lived in a funerary cluster which includes the earlier Mamluk turbas of Sudun and al-Sawabi in addition to this early Ottoman building. However, the name on the inscription frieze that runs along the interior wall identifies it as the maqsura of Nawruz Kikhya al-Jawishiyya al-Muzaffari and puts the inauguration  date as Rabi’ Awwal 941/1534. To complicate matters further, the inscription was carved on to a preexisting structure which leads us to the conclusion that this building was part of a pre-existing structure, probably buildings annexed to the early 16th century Sudun turba (which included a mausoleum and sabil) and that it was remodelled into a maqsura only four decades later.

It is not clear when the building came to be known as Rayhan, or when it was rediscovered as the maqsura of Nawruz, or even when it was listed. The first mention of the building in the Comité records was in 1890, when it was described as a nameless gallery facing the dome of Abu Sibha (a later popular name for the turba of Sudun) and deemed characterless and not worthy of listing. However by March 1915, it had been listed and Patricolo, one of the Comité architects, was charged with preparing a conservation proposal for it. The 1:5000 Egyptian Survey Map of 1919 identified the building as the maqsura of Nawruz Kikhya al-Jawishiyya and gave its second name (in parenthesis) as Liwan Rayhan. This double identity continued in the next 1:5000 Map from the 1930s. Yet in the 1:1000 map as well as in the 1:5000 monument map of 1948, it was only called Iwan Rayhan (Sayyidi Rayhan in the case of the 1:1000 map).

The current belief (as explained by Hani Sa’dun, the area’s turabi) is that Shaykh Rayhan is not buried there and that his grave is in a hawsh slightly north of this monument along with two other woman saints, Sana and Thana. Sana and Thana are said to be descendants of Sayyida ‘A’isha and they are the most popular shrine in the space – although they are still fairly unknown. The turabi also mentioned that there used to be a marker with a green turban but that the owners of the hawsh removed it because “it caused them problems”. Sana wa Thana are mentioned in the Mamluk ziyara books but are said to be descendants of Ja’far al-Sadiq and the location of their shrine is, according to these books, in the vicinity of al-Shafi’i,  close to the shrine of al-Mazni (mn. 672). It seems that their shrine was re-identified as this one based on the words of a modern religious scholar who had read the ziyara books and wrongly deduced that this is where they were buried. According to the mother of the turabi, this happened around 2005. As for the karamas of Rayhan, his shrine was said to cure childhood problems such as retarded speech or walking, stunted growth, or epilepsy. The shrine would be visited 3 Fridays in a row and the child would be left there during the call for Friday prayer. A more dramatic version of this story (in which the mother of the turabi claimed to have personally witnessed the transformation of an 18 year old with stunted growth into a fully grown teenager) claims that the child dies if he is not cured after the 3 days. This custom, however, seems to have been forgotten and is no longer practiced. In another version told by a cemetery resident (of Nasim Hawsh), it is Sana wa Thana, not Rayhan, that are the source of blessing. In both stories, the shrine is said to be popular with foreigners (Kuwaitis in the case of the turabi story and Indians in the case of the resident’s story). It is therefore not clear why the early 20th century maps identify the maqsura as Iwan Rayhan, whereas Rayhan today is said to be buried in another hawsh.

Another source of confusion may be the supposed connection between this shrine and that of Abata, a shrine located further east halfway between the Qarafi and Qusun domes. ‘Abata (who lived and died in this neighbourhood) is said to have been the disciple of a shaykh Ibrahim Rayhan and to have married his daughter Zaynab. ‘Abata, Rayhan and Zaynab are all buried in the ‘Abata shrine and there is no evidence to any connection between the two Rayhans.

Of the burial crypts underneath the three cenotaphs within the middle space, two are still being used by the families of al-Najjar and al-Sha’ir who have buried there for at least the last 40 years, while the third is no longer in use. It is said to belong to a Shaykh ‘Azzam and it is believed that misfortune befalls whoever is buried in it today (Umm Hani).

Foundation History:

The only textual information we have on this minor Ottoman structure is from its foundation inscription which is located on the qibla wall at a height of c. 1.00 M above the current floor level. It describes the structure as a “blessed maqsura with fasqiyyas meant for the burial of the dead” and attributes the construction to Nawruz Kikhya al-Jawishiyya. Another inscription simply starts with the basmalla and then states that everything is finite except God.

The construction year lies between the terms of two Ottoman governors, Sulayman Pasha al-Khadim and Khusru Pasha. The position of Kikhya al-Jawishiyya refers to a military rank in the Ottoman army, and from that and the foreign name we can infer that Nawruz was not Egyptian. The kikhya was the head of the Jawishiyya corps which was established in Egypt in 1524 and was responsible for guarding the governor and relaying his orders.


The building in its current state consists of a central space composed of two domed bays fronted by arched openings carried on octagonal stone pillars. The pillars in the front, and stone walls in the sides and rear support the shallow stone domes that roof the structure. This space is flanked by two bays of the same proportions that are not as well-preserved. The northern bay is also fronted by an arched entrance but it currently is not roofed. The southern bay is not intact. All that remains of it is a rear wall and remains of the front wall showing that it too was arched. The central space has a mihrab in its southern wall with a tiraz band running half-way up its height. It is currently not connected to the two side bays although this may have been a later modification. All four bays have square niches in the middle of their rear (western) wall. The central space houses three cenotaphs and is currently closed off from the burial enclosure by modern masonry walls about 1.50 M high. An iron gate opens onto the space. The southern bay contains two cenotaphs.

There is indication that this building extended in both directions. The plan of the madfan immediately north has dimensions almost identical to the four bays. Furthermore, the fabric of its masonry façade is the continuation of that of the monument except that only its southern connection with the central bay is carried by an octagonal pillar. The other side of the arch fronting the space stands on a solid ashlar wall pierced with an arched window with an arched entrance door next to it. Next comes the so-called shrine of Rayhan / Sana wa Thana and that is a modern stone rubble structure. Yet at its northern corner are remains of the springing of an arch very similar in proportions and stone masonry fabric to those of the monument. The rest of the wall (until the enclosure corner) is a solid ashlar wall with a two small windows.

While no buildings exist south of the monument, there is indication that it extended in that direction too especially that the arched façade is carried on octagonal pillars on both sides.

Highlights and Analysis:

The term maqsura is a fluid term that has been used to describe a variety of architectural types in Islamic architecture. It can refer to the wooded screen around a cenotaph, to a screened off space in a mosque reserved for the ruler’s use, or to an open arcaded space, possibly raised above ground. In the Ottoman period it came to be used for the smaller canopies that replaced the turba as a more modest burial structure. In this case it seems to refer to a bayed arcaded space larger than the standard baldachin of which the neighbouring turba of Mustafa Jaliq is a typical example. Although it is currently arcaded on one side and blocked on the other, there is indication that it may have been open on both sides. In a photograph from the 19th century taken of Sudun and al-Sawabi from the west, the western façade of the two central bays looks as if it was open and arcaded too. The mihrab on the qibla wall and the inscription running around the structure shows that the two middle bays were closed off from the start, but this does not explain why there were at least two (maybe 5) bays similar to them on both sides. It is however, obvious that the qibla wall used to be open onto the southern bay and that it was blocked when the inscription and mihrab were added. This means that there was a pre-existing structure that looked more like a domed riwaq and then two bays were blocked off and reused as a maqsura. This pre-existing riwaq was probably part of one of the two Mamluk structures east of the iwan, either the Sudun or al-Sawabi, maybe functioning as the arcades of a prayer structure. The fact that the pillars and the shallow domes they carry are very close to those of the mosque of Aqsunqur (mn. 123; 746/1345) which lies in al-Darb al-Ahmar, may indicate that it was part of al-Sawabi which is dated to the same period. However, we also know from the sources that the mausoleum of Sudun was part of a larger complex that included a sabil. Because not much is known of the history or original appearance of either structure and because the stone pillars are considered an anomaly in the mosque of Aqsunqur, it is difficult to tell for sure. In another complication, the shallow domes topping the maqsura bays can also be seen in later Mamluk structures (closer in date to Sudun) such as the small mausoleum in the madrasa of Khayr Bak (mn. 248; 907/1502 – 926/1520), also in al-Darb al-Ahmar.

Visual documentation of the cemetery in the 19th century does not show many maqsuras in this shape. Instead we get plenty of illustrations of the canopy like structures similar to that of Mustafa Agha Jaliq which is part of this study. However, Prisse d’Avennes has a drawing of what he calls a funerary mosque close to Kiman al-Juyushi. This “mosque” is probably a small sitting area (maqsura) fronted by an arch with a small sabil opening next to it. This is closest in principle to the Nawruz structure, bearing in mind that it cannot have been a typical Ottoman structure because it was remodeled from an existing Mamluk building. One could also make a parallel between the double baldachin structures such as that seen in the illustrations of the Description de l’Egypte, or the later example of the Tusun Daramalli cenotaph (on al-Shafi’I Road) which probably dates from the late Ottoman/early Muhammad ‘Ali period.

Later History:

After its Ottoman remodeling, and the appropriation of the space that resulted in the change in name to Shaykh Rayhan, then its re-identification as Nawruz, the building continues to hold the dual personality of Nawruz/Rayhan especially in academic writings, although today it is the hawsh north of it that called Rayhan by the locals. As mentioned above, it was taken note of in the late 19th century by the Comité which decided it was not of interest. Yet it was restored at the beginning of the 20th century and continued to undergo restoration works in the course of the next 70 years. Works carried out in the 1930s included the restoration of the arches of the southern bay in addition to the removal of a lime plaster applied by ‘Abdu Sa’dun (probably of the family that later came to be known as Sudun) the turabi in charge of the area. Another more extensive phase of reconstruction (especially of the southern bay) was carried out in the 1960s.


Badr, Hamza ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, Anmat al-madfan wa’l-darih fi’l-qahira al-uthmaniyya (unpublished PhD dissertation (University of Suhag, 1989), pp. 359-361

Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe, Fascicules I to XXXX (French) + Kurrasa 41 (Arabic), Exercices 1882-3 to 1946-53 (French) + 1954-6 (Arabic). (Cairo, 1892-1963)[Online:], 1890, p. 93-4; 1915-9, p. 312; 1936-40, p. 107-9.

Ibn al-Nasikh, Majd al-Din Muhammad b. `Ayn al-Fudala, Misbah al-dayaji wa ghawth al-raji wa kahf al-laji ; MS. 1461 Tarikh, Dar al-Kutub, Cairo, f. 146v.

Ibn al-Zayyat, Shams al-Din Muhammad, Al-kawakib al-sayyara fi tartib al-ziyara, ed. A. Taymur, Cairo reprinted in Baghdad 1907, p. 201

Al-Sakhawi, Abu’l-Hasan Nur al-Din ’Ali, Tuhfat al-ahbab wa bughyat al-iullab fi’l-khitat wa’l-mazarat wa’l-tarajim wa’l-biqa` al-mubaraka, ed. M. Rabi`& H. Qasim, Cairo 1937, pp. 313-4

Rizq, Asim.  Aṭlas al-‘imara al-islamiya wa’l-qibṭiya bil-qahira (Cairo, 2003) Vol. 4/1, pp. 101-110.

Prisse d’Avennes, Emile, Islamic Art in Cairo, ed. G Scanlon & Y. Siddiqui (American University in Cairo Press, 1999), p. 34

Anon., Description de l'Egypte : ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Egypte pendant l'expédition de l'armée française / publié par les ordres de Sa Majesté l'empereur Napoléon le Grand (Paris, 1809-1828); Etat Moderne I, pl. 64.