In 1974, the School of Architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts received an invitation to make proposals for projects that might be enacted within the framework of an Egyptian-Danish cultural agreement dating from 1971. Several specialists of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts had agreed to place their expertise at the disposal of the preservation of valuable Islamic monuments in Egypt. In May 1974, a small group of students and teachers visited Cairo to select buildings as potential candidates for restoration.
The Jawhariya Madrasa-Mausoleum was selected for its obvious beauty, interest, accessibility and the character of the problems it typified. It is a religious monument which dates from 1440, a madrasa and tomb adjacent to one of the most distinguished universities in Islam: the al-Azhar University and Mosque. The size of the building allowed the programme to be completed within the pre-determined two year period.
In February 1975, twelve Danish students completed a measured survey of the building and this material was later analysed in Copenhagen with the assistance four Damda-Danish International Development Agency students from Egypt. With the approval of the Organisation for Egyptian Antiquities work began in 1980 with the removal of debris from the site. The restoration was enacted in 1981 and the early part of 1982 by teams of students.
The essential aim of the Egyptian-Danish collaboration was to secure and preserve what the teams had selected as a small but precious architectural and historic monument. Water penetration over a considerable number of years had caused serious bursting of wall surfaces due to the crystallisation and expansion of separating salts within the stonework. As a consequence of this, surface decoration and paint work had been largely destroyed, though the main structural walls had retained their stability.
The madrasa-mausoleum is built of soft limestone from the Mokattam Hills outside of Cairo. Cruciform in plan it resembles, in its layout, the mosque of Sultan Hassan, with four main iwans. The dome and lantern are later additions whereas the iwan ceilings, with their richly ornamented decoration, are largely original. Where new elements have been introduced in the restoration, they have been added in accordance with tradition, but in a manner not to be mistaken for original work Technically and structurally sound original elements have been retained. Stone, timber, lead, marble and stained glass repairs were all effected as part of the project. A new roof and drainage system were essential to eliminate water penetration and secure the long-term stability of the structure.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture