Qubba 'Atika wa al-Ja'fari
Cairo, Egypt
Across the street from Shagarat al-Durr's tomb, on the western edge of the great Southern Cemetery, a green and white striped doorway leads into a compound that contains several tombs in which members of the Prophet's family are buried. These tombs are of great architectural interest, because they are among the largest single category of surviving monuments from the Fatimid period, and also the largest related group of surviving funerary monuments from the first six centuries of Islamic history. As places of visitation and prayer, they continue to possess comtemporary appeal.

The Mausoleum of al-Ja'fari was built in 1100 or 1122, and that of Sayyida 'Atika, an alleged aunt of the Prophet, in 1122. The brick domes exhibit novel features in their construction techniques and zones of transition. The dome of Sayyida 'Atika is fluted, the earliest extant example in Cairo. The squinch in the zone of transition of the domes of al-Ja'fari and 'Atika comprises three niches surmounted by one, and is the prototype for the Egyptian muqarnas squinch.

The dome over the chancel (probably 975-8) sits on a squinch flanked by two narrower niches, but without the upper story of one niche.

The springing of the squinches of al-Ja'fari and Sayyida 'Atika from the top of the walls of the mausoleum results in the absence of an exterior transitional zone, due to the setting of the squinch within the walls of the mausoleum. But while the squinches transform the interior of the transitional zone into an octagon, the exterior of this zone between the walls and the dome is articulated in a stepped fashion, a local innovation.

The years between the vizierate of Ma'mun al-Bata'hi (1121-5) and the arrival of the head of al-Husayn in Cairo in 1154 were politically unstable, with Crusader advances, the Nizari schism, and assassinations. To promote popular support for the Isma'ili imam, the cult of 'Alid saints, initiated by Badr al-Jamali (vizier from 1074 to 1094), who found the head of al-Husayn in Ascalon in 1090, was made official. The vizier restored the Mashhad of Sayyida Nafisa, and his own mashhad or victory monument on the plateau of the Muqattam hill has epigraphy with strong Shi'i content. The cult was architecturally expressed, first, by Ma'mun al-Bata'hi's Aqmar Mosque (1125), whose facade exhibits iconography and epigraphy sending strong Isma'ili Shi'i signals; and second, and more importantly, by the construction and restoration of the mausolea of 'Alid saints in the Qarafa (cemetery) between 1122 and 1154. Finally, the head of al-Husayn was interred within the royal area of al-Qahira, following the royal funerary traditions of burying the members of the family of the Fatimid imams in a funerary chapel in the Eastern Palace known as turbat al-za'faran, or 'tomb of saffron'. The shrine housing this relic inside the once forbidden royal city of al-Qahira became a site for rallying the population round the venerated grandson of the Prophet. Today, the tombs are maintained by the Bohras, an Ismai'li Shiite subsect in India.


'Abd al-Wahhab, Hasan. "Al-'Asr al-Fatimi." Majallat al-'Imara 2 5-6 (1940): 310-324.

Creswell, K.A.C. The Muslim Architecture of Egypt Oxford: Clarendon Press, Hacker Art Books, New York, 1978.

Jarrar, Sabri, András Riedlmayer, and Jeffrey B. Spurr. Resources for the Study of Islamic Architecture. Cambridge, MA: Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1994. http://archnet.org/library/documents/one-document.jsp?document_id=6053.

Williams, Caroline. "The Cult of 'Alid Saints in the Fatimid Monuments of Cairo, Part II: The Mausolea." Muqarnas 3 (1985): 39-60.

Williams, Caroline. Islamic Monuments in Cairo:The Practical Guide, 110. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2002.
Shari' al-Kahlifah, Cairo, Egypt
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Associated Names
1100-1122/493-516 AH
Style Periods
Variant Names
Qubba 'Atika wa al-Ja'fari
Tomb of Sayyida 'Atika and Muhammad al-Ja'fari
Qubbat 'Atika wa-al-Ja'fari
Qubbat 'Atiqah wa-al-Ja'fari
Mashhad 'Atika wa-al-Ja'fari
Building Usages