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Mamluks architecture

     

Madrasa & Mausoleum Complex of Sultan Hassan, Cairo


Sultan Baybars complex

The reign of the Mamluks (1250-1517 A.D.) marked a breathtaking flowering of Islamic art which is most visible in old Cairo. Their piety was reflected in the great religious complexes and beautiful works of art they commissioned. This religious zeal made them generous patrons of architecture and art. Trade and agriculture flourished under Mamluk rule, and Cairo, their capital, became one of the wealthiest cities in the Near East and the center of artistic and intellectual activity. This made Cairo, in the words of Ibn Khaldun, "the center of the universe and the garden of the world." The Mamluk utilized chiaroscuro and dappled light effects in their buildings. The majestic domes, courtyards, and soaring minarets that spread across old Cairo is a good demonstration. Mamluk history is divided into two periods based on different dynastic lines: the Bahri Mamluks (1250–1382) of Qipchaq Turkic origin from southern Russia, named after the location of their barracks on the Nile and the Burji Mamluks (1382–1517) of Caucasian Circassian origin, who were quartered in the citadel. The Bahri reign defined the art and architecture of the entire Mamluk period. Mamluk decorative arts—especially enameled and gilded glass, inlaid metalwork, woodwork, and textiles—were prized around the Mediterranean as well as in Europe, where they had a profound impact on local production. The influence of Mamluk glassware on the Venetian glass industry is only one such example.


The interior of the Sultan Baybars mosque


Mamluk Metalwork(brass inlaid with gold)

The reign of Baybars's ally and successor, Qala’un (r. 1280–90), initiated the patronage of public and pious foundations that included madrasas, mausolea, minarets, and hospitals. Such endowed complexes not only ensured the survival of the patron's wealth but also perpetuated his name, both of which were endangered by legal problems relating to inheritance and confiscation of family fortunes. Besides Qala’un's complex, other important commissions by Bahri Mamluk sultans include those of al-Nasir Muhammad (1295–1304) as well as the immense and splendid complex of Hasan (begun 1356).

Mosque lamp
Mosque lamp

The Burji Mamluk sultans followed the artistic traditions established by their Bahri predecessors. Mamluk textiles and carpets were prized in international trade. In architecture, endowed public and pious foundations continued to be favored. Major commissions in the early Burji period in Egypt included the complexes built by Barquq (r. 1382–99), Faraj (r. 1399–1412), Mu’ayyad Shaykh (r. 1412–21), and Barsbay (r. 1422–38).

In the eastern Mediterranean provinces, the lucrative trade in textiles between Iran and Europe helped revive the economy. Also significant was the commercial activity of pilgrims en route to Mecca and Medina. Large warehouses, such as the Khan al-Qadi (1441), were erected to satisfy the surge in trade. Other public foundations in the region included the mosques of Aqbugha al-Utrush (Aleppo, 1399–1410) and Sabun (Damascus, 1464) as well as the Madrasa Jaqmaqiyya (Damascus, 1421).

In the second half of the fifteenth century, the arts thrived under the patronage of Qa’itbay (r. 1468–96), the greatest of the later Mamluk sultans. During his reign, the shrines of Mecca and Medina were extensively restored. Major cities were endowed with commercial buildings, religious foundations, and bridges. In Cairo, the complex of Qa’itbay in the Northern Cemetery (1472–74) is the best known and admired structure of this period. Building continued under the last Mamluk sultan, Qansuh al-Ghawri (r. 1501–17), who commissioned his own complex (1503–5); however, construction methods reflected the finances of the state. Though the Mamluk realm was soon incorporated into the Ottoman empire (1517), Mamluk visual culture continued to inspire Ottoman and other Islamic artistic traditions.