Wednesday February 21st, 2024
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The Sabil-Kuttab of Sultan Qaitbay in Old Cairo

The first of its kind, this 500-year-old building was one of Old Cairo’s most famous Qur’anic schools.

Karim Abdullatif

The Sabil-Kuttab of Sultan Qaitbay is a Mamluk-era charitable foundation established in 1479 on Saliba Street in Old Cairo. Still standing to this day, it was an early example of Cairo’s urban charity. It was composed of a sabil, a water distribution kiosk, on the ground floor and a kuttab, Quranic school, on the upper floors.


At its completion, the 500-year-old structure became the first free-standing sabil-kuttab in Egypt; a type of structure that would later become common during the Ottoman period. Previously, they were only ever seen in the corner of a mosque or a madrasa.

Arriving at the building, a humbling entrance portal features an example of the rich surface decorations favoured by Sultan Qaitbay, like the red, black and white ablaqs. It’s embedded within an exterior marked by a large, square decorative panel that features stone-carvings divided into nine sections and arranged in three rows consisting of vegetal and geometric designs. 

Inside the sabil chamber, a perforated window allowed water to be handed out to the public and sufficient ventilation to in turn air-cool the water which flowed over a marble salsabil underneath a painted wooden ceiling. Underground, a cistern was used to draw water.

Video Credit: SceneHome

Photo Credit: Flickr / David & Bonnie