Sabil Nafisa al-Bayda
Cairo, Egypt

Of this building, only the façade, with its elegant bank of upper-story mashrabiya windows, is still impressive. At the southern end, near Bab Zuwayla, is the sabil-kuttab. Its rounded front is characteristic of a change in the outline of such monuments that was introduced about 1750. At the northern end, next to a jeweler's shop, is the entrance to a men's bath, which is still in operation. The fires that heat the water are also used to cook the ful mudammas (broad beans) that supply Egyptians of the quarter and beyond with their breakfast fire.

Nafisa al-Bayda ('the white one') started her career as a slave. She was married first to 'Ali Bey, 'the mighty one of Egypt,' in the mid-1700s, then to Murad Bey, a Mamluk of the Qazdughli faction, who rose to power at the end of the eighteenth century. From 1784 he shared power in an unstable relationship with another Mamluk, Ibrahim Bey. Twice Murad was driven to Upper Egypt: first by a newly appointed and determined Ottoman viceroy, then by Napoleon Bonaparte. Murad died there in 1801. Nafisa was a woman of beauty, wealth, charity, and great culture. During Murad Bey's resistance she acted as intermediary between him and Napoleon. She is the only female patron to have a monument survive on the main ceremonial way of al-Qahira. Her monument attests not only to her reputation as righteous and charitable, but to the fact that some women of the eighteenth century achieved great wealth through business investments in land and trade. In fact, she was one of the richest women of her period.

The sabil-kuttab, beautifully restored in 1998 by the American Research Center in Egypt, sits on the corner of Sugar Street, once famous for its sweets and pastries, and for its inclusion in the novel of the same name by Naguib Mahfouz.


Williams, Caroline. 2002. Islamic Monuments of Cairo: The Practical Guide. Cairo: American University of Cairo Press, 144-145.

Bab Zuwayla, Cairo, Egypt
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Associated Names
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1796/1211 AH
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Variant Names
Sabil wa-kuttab Nafisa al-Bayda
Wajihat Wakalat Nafisa al-Bayda
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