There’s an eerie sense of calm around you as you walk down the large stone stairs towards the cool entrance of El Ghouri Complex off El Azhar Street. As the open courtyard draws you further in, it’s as though you’ve been transported to another time.
Built from 1503 to 1504 by Sultan El Ghouri at the end of the Mamluk dynasty, El Ghouri Complex was the last large-scale complex to be built before the start of the Ottoman dynasty. This grand complex is comprised of six main sections; a mausoleum, the Khanqah (settlement for Sufi mystics), an open courtyard, a mosque, a madrasah (religious school) and Sabil (water charity). From the start of its restoration in 2002, the complex’s Khanqah, mausoleum and open courtyard have been used as a space for a variety of cultural performances.
A dark passage leads you towards the inviting light of the open courtyard, which can host up to 150 individuals. The courtyard is surrounded by beige and peach high stonewalls adorned with Islamic calligraphy. Scattered stained glass windows and wooden mashrabeyas add to the overall historical sentiment of the complex. The performance stage is, at most, three feet away from the first row, creating an intimate atmosphere between the audience and the performers. The open courtyard is mainly used for performances in summer, when weather conditions are not too harsh.
If you take a right up the stairs that lead you towards the Khanqah, there’s a completely different atmosphere to the location. Light filters through the stained glass windows, with dark ebony frames creating the sense of divine presence. The Khanqah’s dome is also adorned with stained glass windows, ebony wood and Islamic geometrical shapes. It is in and of itself a masterpiece.
The mausoleum or El Ghouri Dome also hosts various performances, though less than Khanqah and the open courtyard. Inside this dome, the articulate craftsmanship of the decorations on the stone walls makes it seem as though the walls are covered in delicate off-white lace and not stone. A belt of engraved verses from the Koran engulfs the four walls.
El Ghouri Complex hosts numerous cultural performances with the aim of reviving Egyptian culture throughout the year. Some performances have a spiritual focus such as Atyaf Al Mawlawiya, a sufi performance.
El Ghouri’s in-house performance groups, Samaa, Nubian Drums and Peace Message only perform at El Ghouri. The most unique in-house performance is definitely by Peace Message. The performance combines Samaa (a Sufi recitation group), a Coptic choir, an Indonesian recitation group and a Christian choir. This fusion of cultures represents a unique spiritual experience and a message of unity beyond difference.
Ghouri also hosts one-off performances by visiting troupes such as the theatrical performance Glass Wheels from Greece, among others.Entry to the cultural performances is free, while visiting El Ghouri before 6PM incurs an entry charge. El Ghouri produces a monthly schedule with all performances. They have set performances for their in-house cultural groups every first and third Sunday of the month. Their full schedule is available on location and on their website.