Aslam al-Silahdar Mosque

The long reign of the Mamluk sultan al-Nasir Muhammad (between 1294 and 1340), followed by the quick succession of his many sons on the throne were tumultuous times of never-ending violent struggle for power. And yet, it was also a time of tremendous artistic achievement, when architecture in Cairo achieved its unique and mature style, making the city the artistic capital of the Islamic world.

The mosque, built in 1344-45 by Amir Aslam al-Silahdar, is among the masterpieces of Mamluk architecture in Cairo, but time has taken a heavy toll. Work by the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe in the early 20th century saved the building from perishing altogether, but by 2000, it was in urgent need of conservation. Located in a busy traditional neighborhood at the connecting point between the recently conserved Bab Zuwayla and Al-Azhar Park, the mosque was selected as an ideal catalyst for local development through cultural tourism. In 2006, ARCE entered into an institutional partnership with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) to oversee and fund conservation work.

The conservation project, completed in May 2009, was designed to ensure the long-term structural stability of the building, to conserve the authenticity of its historical artifacts and features, and to reinstate the architectural integrity of the monument by addressing the problems stemming from decades of neglect.

The conservation team consolidated the stone masonry of the walls, cleaned and repaired the stone and plaster of the façades, installed new, properly waterproofed roof covers, restored the beautiful decoration of the ceramic tiles on the dome of the founder’s mausoleum, and repaired the woodwork of roofs, floors and galleries. Fine art conservators treated the elaborate limestone, marble, stucco, and stained glass decoration, as well as the painted wooden ceilings and exquisitely carved wooden panels of doors, shutters and the pulpit.

The mosque is a focal point of the neighborhood community life, and its conservation fits into a larger scheme of the urban upgrading of the neighborhood that the AKTC carried out. The building, having been transformed from a neglected and gloomy near-ruin into a stunning jewel of medieval architecture, was part of this transformation of the whole area.