Art Spots, Connected Histories

Inscription on the Facade of the Madrasa-Mausoleum of Sultan Qala’un

About This Resource

A mamluk (military slave) who had served the Ayyubid sultan al-Salih, al-Malik al-Mansur Sayf al-Din Qala’un became sultan in 1279 and founded this grand complex in 1284-85. Caroline Williams notes that this marked a new phase in Mamluk facades in which vertical elements predominated. The street facade of the mausoleum and madrasa was designed to impress passersby with its stately row of pointed-arch windows set within tall niches running from the ground to nearly the height of the crenellation. It was also adorned with an inscription band in large thuluth script [a variety of Arabic calligraphy], positioned low enough that it demanded to be read. The monumental inscription is immensely self-glorifying, as was customary among Mamluk royal commissions of the era.

Annotation by D. Fairchild Ruggles.

The photograph shows the Sultan Qala’un mosque complex in Cairo, Egpt, with its monumental inscription.


Watch a video essay about Mosques and Religious Architecture Here.


This noble dome, this magnificent college, and blessed hospital was ordered by our Lord and Master, the August Sultan al-Malik al-Mansur, the Wise, Just, God-assisted, Victorious, Champion of the Faith, Conqueror, Sword of the World and True Religion...Lord of Kings and of Sultans, the Sultan of the Length and Breadth of the Earth... King of the Two Continents and the Two Seas, King of Kings of Arabs and Non-Arabs, the Guardian of the Two Qiblas, the Servant of the Two Sanctuaries, Qala’un al-Salihi, the Associate of the Commander of the Believersmay God prolong his glory, glorify his victories, elevate his beacon, and double his powerthe incomparable among contemporary kings, the treasure of those destitute of resources, he who renders justice to the oppressed against the oppressor... The beginning of all this took place in 1284 and its ending in 1285. (Trans. Williams, p. 185)


Williams, Caroline. Islamic Monuments in Cairo: A Practical Guide (4th ed.). Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 1993.


Ruggles, D. Fairchild, ed. Islamic Art and Visual Culture: An Anthology of Sources. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, pp. 133-134. Image credit: Sultan Qala’un, street façade showing monumental inscription Cairo / El-Qâhira (lower Egypt), Islamic old town, mosque complex of the Sultan Qala’un (mosque, mausoleum and muristan; built 1283/85 under Sultan Al-Mansur Qala’un, completed 1293 under his son Mohammed en-Nasir). Exterior: detail view of the facade. Photo, 1992, akg-images /Gerard Degeorge.

How to Cite This Page

"Muslim Journeys | Item #210: Inscription on the Facade of the Madrasa-Mausoleum of Sultan Qala’un", May 21, 2024


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