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The Bridge & The Mosque Of Qaitbey

Introduction

The Mosque of Qaitbay stands on the south bank of the Baḥr Yûsuf, by the sixth bridge west of the waterwheels. The Circassian Mamluk sultan al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qaitbay, renowned warrior, torturer, and builder, who ruled Egypt from 1468 to 1496, made occasional visits to Al-Fayoum, including one in March 1476 when he came especially to see the newly-completed orchard and watermill of one of his ministers, Khayrbak Hadid, on his Fayoum estate.

It was probably on this visit that Qaytbây began work on the mosque that bears his name. It is usually assumed that he built the mosque and the bridge by which it stands, but it has been suggested that he merely restored the existing mosque of Ibn Fahl, mentioned by Nabulsi in the thirteenth century and that the bridge was also an earlier work.

The bridge is a solid but attractive two-arched construction, formerly named for Qaitbay’s wife, Khwand Aşi Bây (in whose honor it is said he built the mosque), but now more usually known by the poignant name Qantarat Bab al-Wida’ (Bridge of the Gate of Farewells) because it leads to the cemetery.

The main door of the mosque is on the south side and is very fine. Set in a large recess in the heavy stone wall, decorated with carved blocks of Quranic texts, the double door is of heavy wood, beautifully ornamented with now green bronze. Inside, many of the columns are clearly ancient (some have Corinthian capitals) and were probably taken from the ruins of Arsinoë at Kiman Faris, a short distance to the north. To the left, as you enter is a curtained-off section for women, and just near this under one of the mats is a well in the floor, originally used for raising water for ablutions. The well has a direct connection with the Bahr Yusuf.

On the eastern wall, to the left of the large, rather a plain mihrab (prayer-niche), is a small plaque giving details of the building of the mosque. The large minbar (pulpit) is an excellent example of Islamic decorative art-intricately carved wood with inlaid ivory from Somalia. The Quran bench next to the Minbar is also well executed.