SURVEY OF ORNAMENTAL STONES IN MOSQUES AND OTHER ISLAMIC BUILDINGS OF THE PRE-OTTOMAN PERIOD IN CAIRO, EGYPT

(by James A. Harrell)

 

INTRODUCTION

The city of Cairo in Egypt boasts more surviving medieval Islamic monuments than any other city in the Mediterranean region. Of interest in this study are those monuments that pre-date the Ottoman or Turkish period which began in 1517 AD. Many of these buildings were originally richly decorated with ornamental stones. Initially these were used only for columns (from the 9th century AD onward) but beginning in the mid-13th century AD ornamental stones were also employed for interior wall veneers and pavements. This decoration survives today, to various degrees, in about 65 mosques and other Islamic monuments in Cairo. Of these, six stand out as having a large variety of abundant and well-preserved ornamental stones and being easily accessible. These are the mosque-madrasa-mausoleum of Sultan al-Mansur Qalawan (1284-5 AD, #43 in Table 3), the mosque-mausoleum of Aqsurqur (1346-7 AD, #123), the madrasa-khanqah-mausoleum of Sultan al-Zahir Barquq (1384-6 AD, #187), the madrasa-mausoleum of Sultan al-Ashraf Barsbay (1425 AD, #175), the mosque-madrasa-mausoleum of Sultan Hasan (1356-63 AD, #133), and the mosque-mausoleum of Sultan al-Muayyad Shaykh (1415-22 AD, #190). The last two of these buildings are the most notable.

The varieties, uses and sources of ornamental stones in Cairo's Islamic monuments have not been previously investigated. The purpose of this survey was, therefore, to conduct a comprehensive investigation of these stones. To this end, fieldwork was conducted in Cairo during the summers of 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Provided below are my field notes on (1) the stone varieties present in Cairo, and (2) descriptions of the stones present in the surveyed buildings. Also, provided is a pre-print of a paper on the reuse of Roman stones in Cairo's buildings.

 

DESCRIPTION OF STONE VARIETIES FOUND IN CAIRO -- Field Notes

        Part 1:     Introductory Notes
                        Egyptian Stones
                        Imported Stones
                        Stones of Unknown or Uncertain Provenance
                        References Cited
        Part 2:     List of Stones Mentioned in the Notes

INVENTORY OF STONES IN CAIRO BUILDINGS -- Field Notes

        Part 1:     Miscellaneous Notes
                        Pre-Fatimid Period (before 969 AD)
                        Fatimid Period (969-1170 AD)
                        Ayyubid Period (1171-1250 AD)
        Part 2:     Bahri Mamluk Period (1251-1381 AD)
        Part 3:     Burgi or Circassian Mamluk Period (1382-1516 AD)
        Part 4:     Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Periods (after 1516 AD), and Miscellaneous
        Part 5:     List of Buildings Mentioned in the Notes
        Map Grid for Building Locations (high resolution or low resolution)

REUSE OF ROMAN STONES IN CAIRO BUILDINGS -- Published Paper

Harrell, J.A., L. Lazzarini and M. Bruno, 2002, Reuse of Roman ornamental stones in medieval Cairo, Egypt: in L. Lazzarini (ed.), ASMOSIA VI, Interdisciplinary Studies on Ancient Stone Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones in Antiquity, Venice, June 15-18, 2000; Aldo Ausilio - Bottega d'Erasmo Editore (Padova), p. 89-96.

Text    Table 1    Table 2    Table 3

For images of some of the Islamic buildings in Cairo and their stone ornamentation visit the web site of Dr. Prof. Michael Greenhalgh (Australian National University) at http://rubens.anu.edu.au/cairo/.

Return to Archaeological Geology Home Page