Walking down Al-Mi‘uzz Street, one is bombarded by the spirit of historical buildings from every side. The street is usually buzzing with tourists and local residents going in and out of monuments, buying and selling or taking photos. It is rare that they venture out to side streets such as the wide Bayt al-Qadi Street, that extends next to the complex of Sultan Qalawun. Upon entering the street, the scene significantly changes and the noise levels drop. Within less than a hundred meters, one arrives at Bayt al-Qadi Square, a humble space that once belonged to the grandest of palaces. Today, the palace is forgotten but its mighty loggia stands tall, dominating the entire square with its superb proportions and elaborate decoration. Like most Mamluk residences, the palace of Mamay al-Sayfi has vanished leaving minimal traces and one impressive maq'ad. The maq'ad itself survives in good condition with its architecture and decoration still very much intact (Fig. 1). Only parts of royal and princely palaces dating from the Mamluk period survive. It is very common that we come across a portal and a qa'a with mostly ruins or new constructions surrounding them, such as at the grand palace of Yashbak or Qawsun. Religious institutes have had better chances of survival because of the waqf system, which provides funding for the upkeep of its premises in perpetuity (at least in theory). That is not always a case with residential structures, where chances of survival are usually poor due to the lack of upkeep guaranteed by a waqf or similar document. The maq'ad of Mamay al-Sayfi survives in such a good condition due to the fact that it was almost continuously used since its original occupation. The concept of the maq'ad was introduced in the 9th/15th century in Cairo and was adopted by the Ottomans in the residences of the ruling elite. The word stems from the Arabic word qa'ada, to sit. Yet, the development of the architecture leading to it was not unforeseen. Despite it being hard to trace the roots of the development of the maq'ad, experts are certain that this element couldn't just suddenly appear without prior trials. Excavations from Fustat revealed houses from the 3rd/9th and 4th/10th centuries with courtyards opening up to halls, mostly on the northern side, connected only with three arches. The middle arch was the widest and it opened up to an iwan with two connecting side rooms. The arcaded iwan is perhaps the strongest connection we have to the fully developed Mamluk maq'ad. The maq'ad of Mamay (monument number 51) dates to 901/1496 and is located in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of Cairo at the time of its foundation, Bayn al-Qasrayn. The maq'ad was dedicated to the reception of the elite and the courtyard housed a vast garden with surrounding quarters possibly of the salamlik and haramlik. The vanished palace of Mamay and the maq'ad, their history and footprint will be investigated in this thesis, along with the events that led to the once very grand palace to be only known as the Bayt al-Qadi. What is known now as Maydan Bayt al-Qadi was once part of the Eastern Fatimid palace and it is possible that the maydan had been one of the Fatimid palaces' courtyards. Historians suggest that these quarters were dotted with mashrabiyyas with arcades surrounding the courtyard on the ground floor.
Arab & Islamic Civilizations Department
MA in Arabic Studies
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(2017).The maq'ad of Amir Mamay al-Sayfi: The history and context of a mamluk jewel [Master’s thesis, the American University in Cairo]. AUC Knowledge Fountain.
Osman, Amira Ayman. The maq'ad of Amir Mamay al-Sayfi: The history and context of a mamluk jewel. 2017. American University in Cairo, Master's thesis. AUC Knowledge Fountain.