The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

Sights & Travel

Muezz El Din Street: The Heart of Medieval Cairo

Muezz El Din Street: The Heart of Medieval Cairo
    written by
    Lena Alsayegh

    Coming out of Cairo’s Khan
    El Khalili Market
    after dusk and heading west toward El Muezz El Din Street,
    first-time visitors will not be prepared for the breathtaking splendour
    awaiting. Walking north on El Muezz Street past
    the perfumes, spices and copper markets towards Bab El Futuh, you will slowly
    come across what was the walled city’s major thoroughfare, filled with floodlit
    domes and minarets recently restored to their former glory.  

    El Muezz Street is
    named after the Fatimid caliph who conquered Cairo in AD 969, and whose
    successors built the monuments still standing today. Though severely damaged in the 1992
    earthquake, the restoration is now complete and many of the buildings are
    looking better now than they did before the quake. The area directly between the copper market
    and Sabil Kuttab in the middle of the street is called Bayn Al Qasrayn, named
    after the beautiful palaces that once stood there during Fatimid times. After their ruin, they were replaced by three
    spectacular madrassas during the Mamluk era, which are the highlight of the
    street now and part of Cairo’s most impressive streetscapes.

    Bayn Al Qasrayn used to be a place for couples to stroll through at
    twilight. It now features the area’s
    three most prominent buildings built by three of the most prominent Mamluks. The
    first is the madrassa/hospital/mosque/mausoleum of Sultan Qalawun (simply the
    Qalawun Complex), which is by far the most grand of all three. Built in 1279 in only thirteen months; it is
    the oldest and most ornate of the buildings. Combining Syrian and Christian crusader architecture, its interior is a
    splendid array of detail featuring mashrabeya, stained glass and painted
    ceilings, as well as marble walls, pearl and glass mosaics. Symbolic
    representations of stars, shells and flowers are dotted throughout the building. At its height, the hospital provided free
    medical care, storytellers and musicians to brighten weary spirits, and even
    doled out money to patients upon discharge to help with lost wages. Today, there is a modern eye clinic in its
    place.

    The second
    building is the madrassa and mausoleum of Caliph
    Al Nasir
    , built in 1304 by Qalawun’s second son, who ruled at the height of
    the Mamluk dynasty.   Nasir was a lover of
    public works and built 30 mosques, an aqueduct and a canal during his
    rule. This Madrassa’s gothic doorway was
    brought back from a church in Israel after his army defeated the Crusaders in
    1290 (notice the Islamic modification at the point of the arch– reading ‘Allah’). The mausoleum is dedicated to his mother and
    favourite son.  

    The third building
    is the madrassa and monastery of Sultan
    Barquq
    , a Sufi school and monastery completed in 1386. The highlight of this building is the
    colourful ceiling, especially in the sanctuary, where it is beautifully decorated
    in blue and gold. The mausoleum was
    built for Nasir’s daughter, and you can climb up the minaret for some amazing
    views of the old city.

    Continuing north
    up El Muezz Street, you will come to the striking Sabil Kuttab in the middle of the street at a fork in the
    road. The fountain/school was built in
    1744 by an emir seeking forgiveness for his sins by providing locals with water
    and religious education; it is one of the most recognisable landmarks of
    Islamic Cairo and has been depicted in innumerable paintings and lithographs of
    the old city. Inside is beautiful blue
    ceramic work that can be viewed up close, if you can track down the keeper.

    Keeping to the
    left of the fork, the Mosque of El Aqmar is the next building to note. With its
    decorated stone façade, it was the first of its kind in Cairo and is the oldest
    stone-façade mosque in Egypt. Built in
    1125 by one of the last Fatimid Caliphs, it’s named after the way that it
    shines in the moonlight.  

    Just off of Muezz
    Street to the right on Darb El Asfar is Beit
    El Suhaymi
    , a great example of the life of the wealthy at the time. The
    family mansion and merchant’s inn was built in 1648 and features extensive mashrabeya,
    a tree-filled courtyard, and a haramlik with stained glass and painted
    ceilings. For more information on Beit El Suhaymi, see our museums article here.

    Finally, just
    before Bab Al Futuh and the end of the street is the El Hakim Mosque, which shares a wall with the old city’s
    fortifications. Built in 1013, it is one
    of the oldest mosques in Cairo, though it’s been
    used for anything but worship (prison, stable, warehouse, school,
    asylum) until recent renovations by Shiites from Brunei in 1980, who revere Caliph Hakim
    as part of the Druizm that he inspired. Adding many new features such as chandeliers
    and a new mihrab; the wood beams and minarets are the only remaining features
    of the original.

    Bab El Futuh marks the end of the street. Built in 1087, the gate
    was one of the two main entrances to the Fatimid city of El Qahirah– the other being Bab El Nasr just to the east. The
    annual caravan of returning pilgrims from Mecca used to enter Cairo from here. The
    stones to build the gate were taken from the ruins of Memphis, while carved animals and Pharaonic
    figures can still be seen on some slabs.  

    The street is
    chock-full of history and the remnants of the lives that built the foundation
    for the modern city. Also in the area,
    the Egyptian Textile Museum (located in the 19th century Sabil of Muhammad Ali) is open daily from 9AM to 4:30PM and includes
    many Coptic and Islamic textiles.

    What
    better time to go discover a fascinating part of Egyptian history, whose
    influence can still be seen on Cairo’s
    streets today?

    * El
    Muezz Street is pedestrian-only until 8PM, and
    many of the monuments are open daily from 10AM to 10PM.

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