Madrasa al-Amir Azbak al-Yusufi
Cairo, Egypt

This complex, built by Amir Azbak in 1494-5, illustrates late Mamluk practice in its planning, decoration, and sympathetic response to the urban setting. Amir Azbak al-Yusufi's career began in 1471 as one of the great 'amirs of the sword,' and occupied several high posts. At the time of his death in 1498 he was counselor of state for the son of Sultan Qaytbay. (He is not to be confused with Azbak min Tutuh, who founded Azbakiya.)

The form and location of the portal, sabil, loggia of the kuttab and windows of the qa'a or reception hall attempt to establish strong visual links with the street and give the building an extroverted, urban character, a characteristic of Cairene Mamluk architecture. The main, or northern, facade contains the entrance. At the facade's western end is a drinking trough and the remains of other buildings, probably including a maq'ad; at the eastern end is the sabil-kuttab. The amir's blazon appears above the portal. It is of the kind known as 'composite': in the upper field is a napkin between a pair of horns; and in the lowest field, a cup between two napkins. The dispositions of the various devices are difficult to understand, but it is thought that at this period they are not so much representative of the duties of the amir as they were a common badge used by a group of amirs of the same sultan, since there are many blazons with similar arrangements.

Since this mosque is located on a corner, the various components of the complex are carefully positioned in a fashion that enables the complex fully to exploit the frontage on the two streets. The interior follows the mosque-madrasa layout, save for the use of the southern iwan as a mausoleum. Behind the very lovely mashrabiya screen are buried Azbak, his wife the princess Bunukh, and her son Farag by a previous marriage. In the northwest iwan is an inset loggia, or dikka. A central star radiates outward in the lantern ceiling. The mihrab is plain, but the minbar is attractively inlaid. The interior is richly decorated with marble floors, gilded ceilings, and carved ablaq iwan arches. Each course of the horseshoe arch of the main iwans alternates between buff and red, and is carved, as are the spandrels around the arch, with dense, intricate arabesque patterns. As well as being an important architectural monument, this mosque is also used bu the residents of the neighborhood as a place for prayer and Quranic study groups to meet. it is well taken care of by its custodians.

Characteristic of the shafts of minarets from the late Mamluk period is the lavish stone carving executed in a variety of patterns, such as chevrons, arabesques, and geometrical designs. The second story of the minaret of Azbak displays a fine example of a stone-carved, geometrical pattern.


Behrens-Abouseif, Doris. Islamic Architecture in Cairo. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989.

Jarrar, Sabri, András Riedlmayer, and Jeffrey B. Spurr. Resources for the Study of Islamic Architecture. Cambridge, MA: Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, 1994.

Meinecke, Michael. Die Mamlukische Architektur in Ägypten und Syrien (648/1250 bis 923/1517). Glückstadt: Verlag J. J. Augustin, 1992.

Revault, Jacques, and Bernard Maury. Palais et Maisons du Caire du XIVe au XVIIIe siècle, vol. III, Manzil de Zaynab Hatun. Cairo: Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, 1979.

Williams, Caroline. Islamic Monuments in Cairo:The Practical Guide, 51-52. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2002.

Shari' Azbak, Cairo, Egypt
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Associated Names
1494-1495/900 AH
Style Periods
Variant Names
Amir Azbak al-Yusufi Madrasa
Madrasat al-Amir Azbak al-Yusufi
Building Usages