Mevlevi Samakhana Conservation
Cairo, Egypt
The restoration project of the badly damaged Sama'khana complex, an 18th century theatre and monastery of the Mevievi Whirling Dervishes order, was launched in 1979, after an agreement between the Italian Institute of Culture and the Egyptian Antiquities Organization. The programme was also set up to train students of the Cairo and Helwan Universities as well as personnel of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization the various techniques of restoration. Besides accommodating the Restoration Centre, supervised by Italian experts, the complex will be used for cultural activities involving the local community. Over the span of the restoration period, the pace of work had to be slackened (or even brought to a stand still) on several occasions for lack of sufficient funds.

The works consisted of the total restoration of the Mevlevi Sama'khana, preceded by thorough excavations of underlying structures. The Mevlevi theatre and monastery were built behind the mausoleum of Sunqur Sa'di over the sahn and south-eastern iwan of the madrasa, of which only the north-western iwan remains. It was originally built on a 4-iwan plan. The remains of the Yazbak Aqbardi Palace lie beyond the dervishes' theatre. The Sama'khana is a wooden structure which occupies a 15x15m square and features a central circular area reserved for performances and surmounted by a 10.65m/diameter wooden dome. Two levels of circular galleries line the height of the central performance hall and are supported on slender wooden columns. The sandstone walls were cracked in some areas and the interior surface of the dome was plastered and painted with landscape scenes. Due to water infiltration and dampness, these paintings were flaking off and some parts of the dome itself were crumbling.

Excavations were carried out for the consolidation of the foundations and revealed the sahn of Sunqur Sa'di's madrasa. A system of support was placed under the Sama'khana's floor to enable visitors to see the perfectly preserved remains of this part of the madrasa. Scaffolding was set up to allow the repairs of the wooden structure and to support the dome's inner shell during the restoration of the paintings. The scaffolding was erected according to local methods, using wooden sections tied with ropes to avoid metal clamps which have to be hammered: undue vibrations would have further damaged the brittle and flaking painted plaster. The cracks in the wooden structure of the dome were partially tightened to restore its original shape, all the ceilings were carefully restored, and wooden ribs were treated and reinforced. The original columns of Lebanese pinewood supporting the interior structure and dome underwent a similar treatment. The paintings were carefully restored and a mechanical system to open the eight windows of the dome was devised to preserve the later decorations they display. The major works, including consolidation of the walls and insulation from dampness, were completed by May 1987.

Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Cairo, Egypt
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Associated Names
Associated Collections
18th c., restored 1987
Style Periods
Ground floor area: 256 m²; total site area: 3,850 m²
Variant Names
Mawlawi Sama'khana Conservation
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