Al-Ghouri Caravansary – part of the rich legacy of Egypt

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Wekalet Al-Ghouri, or Al-Ghouri Caravansary, is part of a funerary complex established by Sultan Al-Ashraf Abul Nasr Qansuh Al-Ghouri at the end of the Mamluk era. He built the caravansary to serve as a commercial centre for Egypt and its neighbouring countries.

Sultan Al-Ghouri Mausoleum Complex 

Al-Ghouri Caravansary is situated on Mohamed Abdu Street in the Al-Azhar district.

Who is Al-Ashraf Abul-Nasr Qansuh Al-Ghouri?

Portrait of Al-Ghouri

Al-Ghouri was born in 1446 AD and was the last sultan of the Burji dynasty. As a Circassian slave, he served Sultan Qaitbay who granted him freedom due to his courage and intelligence. Qaitbay made him his personal guard (khaskya) and then bestowed upon him the title of “Emir of Ten” signifying his leadership with 10 knights under his command.

After being involved in military campaigns in Aleppo, he was made the governor of Tarsus, then the chamberlain of Aleppo, and subsequently the governor of Malatia. Finally, he was promoted to “Dwadar”, which means “the carrier of the sultan’s inkwell”, and was responsible for reporting the messages sent to the Sultan.

Al-Ghouri rose to the throne of Egypt in 1501 AD at the age of 60. At first, he declined for fear of the Mamluk princes’ intentions, but they insisted that he accept since they wanted a powerless sultan that could easily be toppled.

Eventually Al-Ghouri consented on condition that they would not kill him if they wanted him out of power. Thanks to his cunning, Al-Ghouri managed to cement the pillars of his rule, oppress the Mamluk princes and eventually get rid of them. He remained in power for fifteen years, nine months and twenty-five days, until he was killed in the Marj Dabiq battle against the Ottoman army, led by Selim I. He was not buried in the tomb he had built for himself.

Al-Ghouri’s fondness of architecture

Al-Ghouri had a taste for architecture and left an artistic legacy of precious buildings in Egypt, Aleppo and Hijaz, most of which were built for charitable purposes. During his reign, he was interested in making Egypt more secure, so he built Aqaba castle and repaired the Mountain castle and Alexandria towers. Moreover, he renovated Khan Al-Khalili, fixed Imam Shafei’s dome and built a minaret for the Al-Azhar Mosque.

Sultan Qansuh Al-Ghouri started to build his funerary complex in 1503 AD. It is comprised of the caravansary, mosque, Khanqah (for Sufis to perform their rituals), dome and sabil-kutab.

Sultan Qansuh Al-Ghouri’s funerary complex

The caravanary

Wekalet Al-Ghouri was built between 1503 and 1505 AD. It is considered an on-site museum for the art of mashrabia design. It has twenty-nine carved mashrabia wood screens and trellis, which form a basic component, beside stone, in the architectural design of the building. The mashrabia and the building are marvellously intertwined showing a unique style of architecture.

Mashrabia 

The caravansary is a five-floor building and its facade overlooks the main street. The entrance, crowned by a tri-lobed arch, leads to a straight passageway which opens directly onto the rectangular open courtyard, which includes a U-shaped fountain.

Wekalet Al-Ghouri 

Al-Ghouri fountain 

The ground floor has twenty-nine rooms with stone vaulted ceilings used as depots surrounding the yard. As for the first floor, it has thirty rooms which were also used as depots for the goods of traders who resided at the caravansary.

Wikalet Sultan Al-Ghouri 

Merchants used to show their goods in the covered space in front of each room to protect them from the heat in summer or the rain in winter. The courtyard has a door which allows access to a corridor that has bathrooms, then the corridor itself leads to an open stockyard for the traders’ animals.

The other three floors have twenty-nine residential units. Each unit has an entrance along with a corridor leading to a lobby, a bathroom and a large hall with a wooden ceiling. The facades of these units overlook the courtyard by means of a splendid group of mashrabia that project from the walls and are supported by wooden brackets. Business deals were usually concluded in the courtyard of the caravansary.

The facade of Wikalet Al-Ghouri                            

Wekalet Al-Ghouri had a stable used by traders and a public toilet that have unfortunately collapsed, except for the entrance.

The caravansary had a number of workers including a building keeper, guards, servants for cleaning and money-changers responsible for exchanging currencies between traders who came to the caravansary from different parts of the world.

Al-Ghouri caravansary is once again open as a cultural centre showing the marvellous Islamic heritage of Cairo. It has become a hot spot for organising interesting cultural events including the popular bi-weekly Al-Tannoura dance performance, which is similar to the more commonly-known whirling dervishes.

The seventh annual festival of traditional crafts and heritage 

The Tannoura show is an integral part of the attractive packages offered to tourists when they visit Cairo, especially for those who love the rich legacy of Egypt.

Tannoura show