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

Funerary complex of Sayf al-Din Qusun

Square domed space east of al-Qarafa al-Kubra Street. Recently restored by the SCA. We also have physical indication that the building was bigger (it extended further to the east) and that it had been inhabited before it was listed in the 19th C.

Both Meinecke and Abu’l-Amayim identify the dome of ‘Ali Badr al-Din al-Qarafi as that of Aydughmish al-Nasiri. They do this on stylistic and topographical grounds based on a text by al-Fakhiri. The ziyara books do not mention this turba by either name and it is not clear when it came to be known after ‘Ali Badr al-Din al-Qarafi or who he is exactly. The waqfiyya of al-Sayfi Yashbak endows funds for supplying the shrine of Syd. ‘Ali al-Qarafi with water.

Alternative identifications: Creswell dates it stylistically to 1310-1320. He had originally (in his Brief Chronology) dated it to 1300-1310 but refined the stylistic dating in MAE. He does not mention Aydughmish at all. Patricolo (in the Comité report) and ‘Asim Rizq do not connect the dome of Badr al-Din al-Qarafi with Aydughmish and date it (probably following Creswell’s Brief Chronology dating) to 700/1300-710/1310.

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Identification and Dating

Alternative names: Turba of Aydughmish al-Nasiri.


This domed structure is identified as Turbat al-Qarafi in the 1:5000 Egyptian Survey maps of c. 1910s, then as the turba (mausoleum) of  Badr al-Din al-Qarafi in the 1:5000 Egyptian survey maps of the 1930s, the 1:1000 cadastral map of 1930. Its name in the monument list and map of 1948 is Qubbat ‘Ali Badr al-Din al-Qarafi. The name seems to refer to a local religious figure who became associated with the space.  It has, however, been recognized by scholars of Mamluk architecture as an early Bahri Mamluk structure, and attempts have been made to date it more accurately and identify its founder. The fact that there is no foundation inscription and that all the remaining epigraphy is Quranic does not help.


Creswell, in his Brief Chronology of Mohammedan Monuments (1915) compares its distinctive cushion voussoirs to a series of Bahri Mamluk buildings that starts with mausoleum of Qalawun (683-4 / 1284-5) and ends with mausoleum of Baybars Jashangir (706-9 / 1306-9), thus dating it stylistically to the first decade of the 7th/14th century.


Creswell later refines his dating to the 1310s. In his Muslim Architecture of Egypt, he produces a more comprehensive list of buildings with cushion voussoirs that starts with Lajin mayda'a in Tulun (696/1296) and ends with the mosque of Ulmas al-Hajib (730 / 1329-30). He then uses the similarity of the stalactite hoods of the windows to those of the mausoleum of Safiyy al-Din Jawhar (714 / 1315) to push the date to the second decade of the 14th century.


Patricolo’s report in the Comité Bulletins of (1915-19) and the monument list of 1948 both continue to date the building to 1300-1310, probably following the first Creswell dating. Rizq’s Atlas (2003) also follows this dating.


Meinecke, in  Mamlukische Architektur (1992) , is the first to try and identify the founder of this mausoleum. A fragment of the chronicle by Badr al-Din Biktash al-Fakhiri mentions that the mosque built by Persians (a'jam) and demolished to make room for Qusun's complex was built in 723/1323 near the mausoleum of Aydughmish al-Nasiri who was buried there in 743 / 1343. Meinecke identifies this mausoleum as that of Aydughmish al-Nasiri and dates it to pre 1323 when the mosque was built. He backs this dating with stylistic analogy of architecture and stucco with two buildings from the 1320s; Sunqur al-Sa'di (721/1321-2) and Ulmas al-Hajib al-Nasiri (730 / 1329-30).


Abu’l-Amayim’s study of the area (2000) also identifies the dome as that of Aydughmish, using the same source (al-Fakhiri). He adds to that some biographical information about Aydughmish that supports this argument; namely that Aydughmish was amir akhur under al-Nasir Muhammad from 709/1309 to 724/1324, which is probably when he built his mausoleum.


Foundation History

The mausoleum was probably built by Aydughmish al-Nasiri sometime during his term as amir akur between 709/1309 and 724/1324. It was later appropriated by a local religious figure, ‘Ali Badr al-Din al-Qarafi. The name al-Qarafi is quite common amongst the residents of the cemetery and also among ahl al-qalam. It is therefore not easy to pinpoint who this particular Qarafi was.


There is an early mention of a shrine of ‘Ali al-Qarafi to which al-Amir al-Sayfi Yashbak endowed 300 dirhams for the provision of water from the Nile in 912 H. Another more illustrious candidate could be the religious scholar and judge Badr al-Din al-Qarafi (938/9- 1008), who is included by al-Muhibbi in his biographical account of the 11th century and whose waqf is frequently mentioned in the court documents of al-Bab al-‘Ali in the 11th century hijri.  Yet al-Muhibbi also mentions that this Badr was buried in a mausoleum he built for himself  in the city, so that would most likely disqualify him.


There is however, mention of more obscure ‘Alis who were employed by the waqf. For example, an entry dating to 1098 in the Bab al-‘Ali ledger refers to a ‘Ali b. ‘Ali al-Qarafi who benefited from half the wiqada salary in waqf Badr al-Din. Even closer to home, another entry dating from 1098 appoints a Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Qarafi in the position of qira’a in the waqf of Qusun al-Saqi. It has therefore proven difficult to accurately understand the circumstances under which this mausoleum changed name or to identify ‘Ali Badr al-Din al-Qarafi.


It is also not easy to understand the original borders of the building. We can deduce from the architecture that this mausoleum extended further in at least two directions; the first towards the north east parallel to the supposed façade of Jami’ Qusun, and the second towards the north-west parallel to al-Qarafa al-Kubra Street. It is not clear when its auxiliary spaces disappeared. Nor is it clear when it started to function as a residence for one of the turabiyya families. The Comité bulletin of 1915-19 mentioned that the dome was inhabited. It describes mud brick walls built in one corner with a low ceiling and makeshift stairs in brick leading to an upper storey. It also mentioned that structures encroach on the dome from all directions.




The current structure consists of a square shaped space with ashlar stone walls topped by a brick dome. The main, northern façade contains an entrance door flanked by mastabas within a recess crowned by a horse-shoe shaped arch with cushioned voussoirs, a detail that was crucial in the dating of this structure as was seen above. The doorway itself is rectangular and is topped by an inscription panel with a joggled voussoir above, then a second panel that should have contained the foundation inscription. Adjacent to the entrance is a window also topped by a joggled voussoir and enclosed within a recess crowned by a tri-tiered stalactite hood. A stepped transitional zone contains tripartite windows that are enclosed within horse-shoe shaped recesses and that have faint traces of stucco decoration. The plastered ribbed brick dome is also pointed, following the typical shape of early Bahri Mamluk domes. The dome was ringed with a row of crenellations that topped the stone walls. Only one original crenellation remains.


The two side façades are pierced by one window each, while the qibla wall has no openings. It is noteworthy that neither the entrance façade with its unusual non-axial entrance nor the eastern façade is symmetrical. This may indicate site restrictions imposed by pre-existing structures, which is surprising considering that this building is the oldest extant monument in the area.


The interior is plain, yet well-proportioned. The qibla wall is undecorated, except for the ribbed hood of the mihrab. Three tiers of pointed squinches alternate with tri-partite windows. This side of the walls, which was meant to be plastered is composed of rubble stone, while the smooth interior of the dome is plastered.


Of the five remaining inscriptions, three are Qur’anic and two are illegible.


Conservation History

The Comité includes al-Qarafi mausoleum in its first comprehensive report on the monuments of this area (which it calls Tombeaux de Mameloukes). The report, which appears in the 1893 bulletin, calls the monument ‘Ali Badr al-Din al-Qarafi and recommends that its masonry interior is repaired, the stalactites and crenellations of the exterior are restored, 3 iron grills repaired and that the two rooms recently constructed in the interior of the dome are removed. In the 1894 bulletin, its caretaker is identified as Sayyid Ibrahim, but its ownership status is classified as unknown. As such, it was eligible for government funding for restoration, and LE 100 was requested for it from the Khedive in 1895. Yet there is no mention in the bulletins of any conservation work until in 1916, when the bulletins refer to a mild dispute over fees between the Comité and the contractor Afifi Effat, who agrees to bring down his estimate for works in al-Qarafi by 22%.  This is probably when the Comité removed the new walls in the interior, encroaching graves on the exterior and dug a trench around the monument bringing its floor down to its original level.


The SCA Mahfuzat collection of scanned drawings contains a map dating from 1903 showing the mausoleum within its surroundings. This map reflects a concern about structures encroaching on the mausoleum especially in the zone between it and the southern minaret where a row of hawshs obscured it from view from al-Qarafa al-Kubra Street.  In fact, the Mahfuzat file for this monument contains extensive documentation of the removal of the hawsh of Farhana ‘Ali in 1932 for which she was compensated with a sum of LE 50. This hawsh blocked access to the mausoleum from al-Qarafa al-Kubra Street. They also show that it tried to remove two other madfans belonging to Zaynab Nashid and Khadija al-Kafrawi.


These protective measures were certainly effective especially that attempts at encroachment continued. In 1931, there was a brief dispute with turabi ‘Id Baraka over his attempts to reside in the mausoleum, while in 1951, constructions by Mahmud Hasan Khalil encroaching on the monument were removed.


With the exception of minor repairs in 1946 to the few remaining crenellations, the door, the iron fence and the window grills, not much work was done in the monument until the extensive conservation project around the turn of the 21st century.





Published Books:

Abu‘l-`Amayim, Muhammad, “Al-mi’dhana al-qibliyya wa ma hawluha min al-athar kharij bab al-qarafa bi’l-Qahira”, Annales Islamologiques XXXIV (2000), pp. 45-89.


Badr al-Din Biktash al-Fakhiri, ed. K.V. Zettersteen, Beitrage zur Geschichte der Mamlukische Sultane (Leiden, 1919), p. 226


Centre for Planning and Architectural Studies & Centre for Revival of Islamic Architectural Heritage, Principles of Design and Urban Planning during Different Islamic Eras, (Organisation of Islamic Capitals and Cities, 1992), pp. 137-8)


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:], 1894, p. 69; 1894, pp. 78-9. 133; 1895, pp. 10-13; 1915-9, pp. 78-9, p. 428, 584; 1936-40, pp. 107-9.


Creswell, K. A. C., “A brief chronology of the Muhammadan monuments of Egypt to A.D. 1517”, BIFAO Vol. XVI (1919), p. 87; pl. XIII B.


Creswell, K.A.C., The Muslim Architecture of Egypt (New York, 1978), pp. 265-7.


Meinecke, Michael, Die mamlukische Architektur in Agypten und Syrien (Gluckstadt, 1992), p. 134


Al-Muhibbi, Muhammad Fadl Allah, Khulasat al-athar fi-a`aán al-qarn al-hadi ‘ashar (Beirut 1970) [Online:].


Patricolo, “Tombeau d’Ali Badr al-Din al-Qarafi, au cimitiere sud. (700-710 H.=1300-1310 AD)”, Comité XXXII, 1915-9 (1922), pp. 78-9; pl. LXXIX.


Rizq, Asim.  Aṭlas al-‘imara al-islamiya wa-al-qibṭiya bil-qahira (Cairo, 2003), Vol. ***, pp. 339-347.


Archival Material:

Centre for Documentation of the Supreme Council of Antiquities; Idarat al-Mahfuzat files; Badr al-Qarafi, files 1 & 2; Idarat al-Microfilm scans Badr al-Qarafi).


National Archives of Egypt; Ledgers of al-Bab al-‘Ali Courts [Online: ]


Ministry of al-Awqaf; Daftarkhana; Waqf al-Sayfi Yashbak, 1 Muharram 912 H, Awqaf 485.