Howayda Al-Harithy



Sabil-Kuttabs and the Conception of Water During the Mamluk Period

During the Mamluk period, 1258-1517, numerous sabils were constructed in Cairo by wealthy amirs and sultans as part of their patronage program and agenda. The earliest surviving sabil is the sabil of al-Nasir Muhammad, which was attached to the complex of his father Qalawun on al-Mu’iz Street (1326). Others include the sabil of the Madrasa of al-Amir Iljay Al-Yusufi (1373) in Souq al-Silah, the sabil of the Khanqa of Sultan Faraj ibn Barquq (1400-11) in the Northern Cemetery and the Sabil of Qaitbay on Saliba Street (1479-80). The study of Mamluk sabils, since their appearance during the early part of the fourteenth century, is intended to determine how they evolved from modest architectural features to sophisticated urban interventions. Through the comparative analysis of different sabils and sabil-kuttabs in terms of their location, waqf, inscriptions, typology and architectural decoration, the paper argues that sabils did not only develop from simple attached features to elaborate free-standing urban landmarks, but also evolved programmatically from the practical function of providing water to the commemorative purpose of glorifying their founders. They came to occupy a significant role in advancing the Mamluk political agenda through architectural patronage by taking on a central role in the production of social space in Cairo.

Biography / Bibliography

Howayda Al-Harithy is a Professor of Architecture at the American University of Beirut where she has taught studios in architecture and urban design and courses in art and architectural history and theory since 1994. She served as the Chair of the Department of Architecture and Design between 2003 and 2006. Al-Harithy was a visiting professor at the Department of Fine Arts at Harvard University in 1994 and at the Department of Architecture at MIT in 1993 and in 2000. During the academic year 2005-06, Al-Harithy was a visiting scholar at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. She received her bachelor degree in architecture from the Oregon School of Design in 1985, masters in architecture from MIT in 1987, PhD in art history from Harvard University in 1992. Her research in Islamic art and architecture focuses on the Mamluk period, 1258- 1517. Al-Harithy published a monograph in the Bibliotheca Islamica series entitled The Waqf Document of Sultan Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Qalawun. She also published several articles in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Muqarnas, Mamluk Studies Review, Middle East Women’s Studies Review, and the Harvard Middle Eastern and Islamic Review. Her most recent research focuses on urban heritage and conservation featured in recent articles such as “[Reframing] World Heritage,” in Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments, 17/1 (UC Berkeley, California: Fall 2005): 7-17 and “Under attack,” in IJMES: International Journal of Middle East Studies, 39/2 (May 2007): 68-69.

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