Lonely Planet review
The part of Sharia al-Muizz just north of Khan al-Khalili’s gold district is known as Bein al-Qasreen, a reminder of the great palace complexes that flanked the street during the Fatimid era. The palaces fell into ruin and were replaced by the works of subsequent rulers. Today three great abutting Mamluk complexes line the west of the street, providing one of Cairo’s most impressive assemblies of minarets, domes and striped-stone facades. They’re easy to visit, as you don’t have to remove your shoes. Admission is free, but tip the caretakers.
Madrassa & Mausoleum of as-Salih Ayyub
In Mamluk times, this complex was essentially the high court, as the theological school it housed produced the most influential judges. It was built earlier, however, in 1247, in the era of the Ayyubids, the ruling dynasty established by Saladin (Salah ad-Din). The adjoining tomb, where Sultan Ayyub resides, was built by his Turkic wife, Shagarat al-Durr (Tree of Pearls), in 1250, well after the sultan’s death, which she had concealed to keep the French crusader armies in Damietta from sensing weakness. Shagarat al-Durr managed to defeat the crusaders, then ruled on as sultana and ushered in the Mamluk era, when the Turkic janissaries took power.
Madrassa & Mausoleum of Qalaun
Completed in 1279 after little more than a year’s work, this madrassa is the most splendid of the three monuments here. The mausoleum, on the right, is a particularly intricate assemblage of inlaid stone and stucco, patterned with stars and floral motifs and lit by stained-glass windows. The complex also includes a maristan (hospital), which Qalaun ordered built after he visited one in Damascus, where he was cured of colic. The Moroccan traveller and historian Ibn Battuta, who visited Cairo in 1325, was impressed that Qalaun’s hospital contained ‘an innumerable quantity of appliances and medicaments’. He also described how the mausoleum was flanked by Quran reciters day and night chanting requiems for the dead within.
Madrassa & Mausoleum of An-Nasir Mohammed
Sultan An-Nasir (‘the Victor’), son of Qalaun, was both despotic and exceedingly accomplished. His madrassa was built in 1304 in part with a Gothic doorway An-Nasir plundered from a church in Acre (now Akko, Israel) after he and his army ended Crusader domination there in 1290. Note how the word Allah has been inscribed at the point of the arch. The lacy pattern on the carved stucco minaret, a North African style, reveals more foreign influence. Buried in the mausoleum (on the right as you enter but usually locked) is An-Nasir’s mother and favourite son; the sultan himself is next door in the mausoleum of his father, Qalaun.
Madrassa & Mausoleum of Barquq
Barquq seized power in 1382, when Egypt was reeling from plague and famine; his Sufi school was completed four years later. Enter through the bold black-and-white marble portal into a vaulted passageway. To the right, the inner court has a lavish blue-and-gold ceiling supported by four porphyry Pharaonic columns. Barquq’s daughter is buried in the splendid domed tomb chamber; the sultan himself preferred to rest in the Northern Cemetery, surrounded by Sufi sheikhs.
Sabil-Kuttab of Abdel Rahman Katkhuda
Where the road splits, the Sabil-Kuttab of Abdel Rahman Katkhuda is one of the iconic structures of Islamic Cairo, depicted in scores of paintings and lithographs. Building this fountain-school combo was an atonement for sins, as it provided two things commended by the Prophet: water for the thirsty and enlightenment for the ignorant. This one was built in 1744 by an emir notorious for his debauchery. There’s nice ceramic work inside.
Down the little alley to the east, Qasr Beshtak (Palace of Amir Beshtak) is a rare example of 14th-century domestic architecture, originally five floors high. It has been nicely restored and is open periodically as a concert venue. Inside is a small shop selling classical Arabic music and other items.