Cairo “having turned into a provincial town under the Ottoman rule - lost the glorious status it had enjoyed during the Mamluk period. That affected the functions of the city resulting in changes of its architecture. In particular, stripped of its role of the capital and military center, Cairo metamorphosed into a hub of commercial activities attracting mainly merchants and travelers. Such a transformation affected the domestic architecture of the Ottoman period. According to Andre Raymond, the wealthier Ottoman houses were arranged near the center, and the poor were located further away. The socio-economic levels of inhabitants of Cairo under Ottoman rule were disparate, which predetermined a type of housing depending on dwellers' needs. Some of the Cairene houses at that period were so small that they were barely large enough for a family to spend a night in. A house for such a family was not much more than a shelter; for others, the house represented the prestige and the social state of the family. Based on the social and economic stratum, Nelly Hanna classified Ottoman domestic architecture in Cairo into three types: houses (upper class), rental housing units (middle-class), and shared dwellings (lower class). This research focuses on the upper-class houses, also known as private dwellings. The primary interest of the study is in the Birkat al-Fil area, as well as Birkat al-Azbakiyya. Historians were more concerned with categorizing the domestic architecture of Cairo into strata; however, there is a category that has not received proper attention. This category encompasses the waterfront houses. Birkat al-Azbakiyya and Birkat al-Fil were the largest birkas in Cairo that used to display unique architectural treatment for the buildings surrounding them. Moreover, they were occupied by distinguished occupants. According to Hanna, birkas usually had qusur surrounding them. However, some of those birkas were surrounded by luxurious houses that were not at the same level as qusur. Birkat al-Fil was considered one of the prime locations of those elite houses. Being the residential area of highly ranked figures - such as amirs - and princely houses, it was one of the exceptions because it was not a densely settled area. Moreover, the architecture of those houses was distinguished since their main rooms overlooked the water. Unfortunately, almost nothing has remained of those palaces. Yet, the French architecturally documented one of these houses - that of Hasan al-Kashif - and sketched elements of other houses, for instance, that of Uthman Bay. Besides, one of such upper-class waterfront houses still exists in a fragmental state. This house used to be known as the house of Shaykh al-Sadat al-Wafa'iyya. This thesis aimed at identifying to what extent the architectural approach to waterfront houses was different from the approach to upper-class houses. It also intended to study the house of Shaykh al-Sadat in light of the social and economic strata of the Wafa'iyya family. With the availability of the waqfiyya of Shaykh Abu'l-Anwar al-Sadat and sketches by contemporary orientalists, it has been possible to document the key elements of this house. Furthermore, since this house used to be an upper-class residence, it is possible to compare it with still existing upper-class Ottoman houses in order to classify the unique features that were introduced in this house. This comparison will suggest that the house of Shaykh al-Sadat was unique and reflected the economic, political and social state of the Wafa'iyya family. Moreover, this research aims at reconstructing the house of Shaykh al-Sadat based on the availability of the waqfiyya, and the work of contemporary scholars and artists. By consulting more recent historians, sources that include the description of the current state of the house, and the primary sources, the research can suggest a complete layout of the original state of the house. The Ministry of Antiquities previously offered a reconstruction proposal based on the archeological traces, and investigations done by the Comit-©. This can now be corrected based on the data collected in this thesis.


School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Arab & Islamic Civilizations Department

Degree Name

MA in Arabic Studies

Graduation Date

Fall 1-21-2020

Submission Date


First Advisor

O'Kane, Bernard

Committee Member 1

Karim, Chahinda

Committee Member 2

J.A. McGregor, Richard


90 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis


The author retains all rights with regard to copyright. The author certifies that written permission from the owner(s) of third-party copyrighted matter included in the thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study has been obtained. The author further certifies that IRB approval has been obtained for this thesis, or that IRB approval is not necessary for this thesis. Insofar as this thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study is an educational record as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 USC 1232g), the author has granted consent to disclosure of it to anyone who requests a copy. The author has granted the American University in Cairo or its agents a non-exclusive license to archive this thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study, and to make it accessible, in whole or in part, in all forms of media, now or hereafter known.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Not necessary for this item


I want to express my sincere gratitude to my advisor Prof. Bernard O'Kane for his continuous support since day one of my master's. He always motivated me with his immense knowledge. His guidance helped me the whole process of this thesis. I would also like to thank my thesis committee: Prof. Chahinda Karim, and Associate Prof. Richard J.A. McGregor for their insightful comments and encouragement. Special thanks to Prof. McGregor for sharing with me all his pictures and materials related to my thesis topic. I would also like to thank all the specialists working in the Rare Books & Special Collections Library at AUC for their constant help and support, especially Miss. Eman Morgan, the Asst. Dir. for Special Projects, Elec. Media and Professional Development, Miss. Balsam Abdel-Rahman, the Asst. Director & Curator of Regional Architecture Collections, Miss. Walaa Temraz, and Miss. Ola Mansour for their patience and support throughout the way. Special thanks to Prof. Khaled Asfour, who was always my mentor as an undergrad student, and as a teaching assistant in the architecture department at MIU. I want to thank him for his constant support and motivation. I am incredibly grateful to my family for their support, sacrifices, and motivation. I express my thanks to my parents and brother for their valuable assistance. I am also grateful to my friends Hosam Araby, Yahia Abulfadl, and Radwa al-Fardy for their constant support. Thanks to the Nadia Niazi fellowship that I received at the American University in Cairo.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.