The Funerary Complex of Amir Qurqumas in Cairo, Egypt

About Egyptian Mosques


by Jimmy Dunn writing as Ismail Abaza



The dome and minaret of the Qurqumas complex in Cairo, Egypt



The funerary complex of Amir Qurqumas, dating to 1506-07, adjoins that of Inal to the north. Qurqumas was a Mamluk of Sultan Qaytbay who became grand amir under Sutlan al-Ghuri. He was the commander-in-chief of the armies, or 'amir kabir" at the time of his death in 1510, and was said to posses strong anti-Ottoman sympathies. Hence, he died before the Ottomans overthrew the Mamluk regime of Egypt between 1516 and 1517.


However, the Ottomons, apparently took revenge on him anyway, stripping the marble facing from the walls of his madrasa (although according to another theory, it was actually al-Ghouri who did this to incorporate the pieces into his own monument). The residential units attached to the complex were taken over for military purposes, and the storerooms were stocked with gunpowder. They also constructed a poorly-built brick mill in front of the building, which remains and has been partially restored.


Ibn Iyas' provided us with an obituary and a report on his funeral, which is historically an interesting account of this ceremony during the mumluk period:


"The death of Qurqumas the Atabaki, Grand Marshal of the Armies of Egypt, occurred on Tuesday the 23rd (of Ramadan). Cairo went into mourning and his funeral procession was followed by a numerous throng. The four Qadis (judges) were there, and all the officers, junior and senior, the principal civil officials and the notables. One could say that no one of importance was missing in the funeral cortege. Penitential alms of bread, dates and sheep were carried before it, but when it arrived at the college of Sultan Hasan, the common people seized these. At various points along the route, pieces of silver (money) were thrown over the bier. Sorrow and weeping were general because Qurqumas was both benevolent and modest. When the procession arrived at the Sabil of al-Mu'mini, the Sultan (Ghuri) left the Hippodrome (below the Citadel) and came on horse to the fountain. He dismounted and entered the oratory. When they placed the bier in front of him, the Sultan kissed the dead man, and then wept bitterly. After the prayer, the Sultan helped carry the coffin for some paces, then the officers took over in relays as they passed in front of the procession. They went to the mausoleum built by the deceased in the desert next to that of al-Ashraf Inal. He was buried under the dome, God have mercy on him.


Qurqumas was a splendid officer, who enjoyed he respect and the consideration of all. A former Mamluk of al-Ashraf Qaytbay, he was manumitted by that monarch and subsequently went up the ladder of promotion, beginning with the job of second equerry. he had been a Commander of 1,000, Commander of the Guard, and was appointed governor of the province of Aleppo in the reign of Ashraf Janbalat, although he never held the post. He was imprisoned in the citadel of Damascus because of his inclination to the Amir Tumanbay the Dawadar when the latter was proclaimed Sultan in Syria. When order was established he was imprisoned with a number of other officers in the citadel there. When Qansuh al-Ghuri came to power he released him and summoned him to Cairo, where he assumed the duties of Minister of War. Then he replaced Qayt Rajabi as Grand Marshal when the latter was imprisoned in Alexandria in 1505. He was thus marshal for six years and two months less seven days. he was over 60 years old and had been ill for four days. He left four young children, boys and girls. His estate was valued at about 70,000 dinars, without counting his movable property. He had manumitted all his slaves, whether Mamluks, blacks, or slave girls."



The interior of the dome



This is only one of a number of buildings that Ququmas built in Cairo's Northern Cemetery (a part of Islamic Cairo). Others included annexes, kitchens, storehouses, lodgings, wells with saqiya, stables and ablutions courts.


The funerary complex, which included a Friday (congregational) mosque with Sufi hudur services, has a layout very similar to that of Sultan Qaytbay's mosque. It also included a rab', or apartment building, a madrasa, a sabil-kuttab and a private residential quarters, in addition to the mausoleum (which was found to contain a skeleton matching Qurqumas' description). Teaching at the complex seems not to have been specific to a particular rite.


Like the Sultan Qaytbay's mosque, the minaret is at the right of the portal, with the sabil-kuttab on the left side and the dome on the southeast corner of the building adjoining the qa'a-plan prayer hall. The dome has the same proportions and even the same scale as that of Qaytbay's mausoleum, though of less intricate geometric adornment. Here, the dome has carved lozenges in the lower part and a zigzag pattern on the upper section.




A close-in view of the minaret of the complex




A view of the minaret of the complex



Several views of the A view of the minaret of the complex

The minaret has lozenges carved on the faceted middle section and a zigzag motif like that of the mosque of Sultan Inal, but is also strikingly similar to that of Qaytbay. There are three bent supports that extend from the minaret finial which were used for hanging mosque lamps.


An archaoic picture of the  complex in Cairo


An interesting feature that has been preserved in this complex is the qasr (palace), the term used in the waqf deed to designate the hall on the south side of the mausoleum. This was a residence with large iron-grilled windows surmounted by arched openings in pierced stone that overlooked the cemetery to the south, east and west. It can be reached from the main door in the courtyard or from an internal staircase on the other side of the mausoleum. At ground level the arched rooms provided space for storage and stables. The area above includes an open courtyard, a large reception room, a bedroom and a latrine. It was the practice of wealthy founders of such large religious foundations to often attach residential structures to their buildings, particularly if the structure served Sufis, like the khanqah of Shaykhu, or was located in the cemetery where the founder would attend feast days and other occasions. Thus, the complex of Barsbay has apartments attached to it, and this complex still has a maq'ad, or reception loggia.



A view of the overall Funerary Complex of Amir QurqumasClose-in view of the dome
Left: An overall view of the complex; Right: Close-in of the Dome


There were also apartment complexes, called a rab', that occupied both sides of the cemetery road. These were duplexes with units built on two floors. One side has survived, with living units built on two floors and a latrine on both floors of each apartment. Apparently the other side is also somewhat intact. These cells are arranged along a corridor in four symmetrical pairs and each unit is equipped with its own spiral staircase. Each of these staircases twist in the same clockwise (for descent) way. The idea was that one would have to step with his right foot first, in accordance with hadith. The foundation deed states that these residential units could house up to eight members of the foundation's staff, as well as others, meaning that the inhabitants might be families with women and children. In other words, the foundation, like many of its time, functioned as a mosque with multiple duties as opposed to a khanqah with a monastic community.


This complex was restored by a Polish-Egyptian Group for Restoration of Islamic Monuments between 1983 and 1988, and currently, the complex is being worked on by the Ministry of Culture. During the midst of this work the founder's residence was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1992. The complex was almost beyond repair when this work commenced, and the restorers have taken an interesting approach. They will allow it to remain in a state of ruin with preservation, allowing layers left exposed to show the functional division of the building.







Reference Number

Historical Cairo (A Walk Through the Islamic City)

Antonious, Jim


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977-424-497-4

Islamic Monuments in Cairo, A Practical Guide

Paker, Richard B.; Sabin, Robin; Williams, Caroline


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 036 7

Islamic Architecture in Cairo: An Introduction

Behrens-Abouseif, Doris


E. J. Brill

ISBN 90-04-08677-3