Conservation of the Hawd of Sultan Qaitbey, Cairo (full)

Architectural conservation of a building originally used to provide drinking water to animals as charity (hawd). It is part of the funerary complex built in the 1470s by the Mamluk sultan al-Ashraf Qaitbey at the “City of the Dead” in Cairo, which is an outstanding example of late-Mamluk style. Historical research proved that parts of the building were missing when protective measures were installed in the early 20th century, which resulted in the monument’s current appearance.

The purpose of the work carried out by ARCHiNOS was to preserve and protect the existing historic material, without making modern imitations of what has been lost. An important objective was to present the authentic material in such a way that it can be understood and appreciated.

Removal of accumulated deposits to mitigate the effects of rising polluted damp revealed the original stone floor and drinking basin. Conservators  cleaned the walls, removing crystallised salts, recent Portland cement coatings, and layers of polluted dust and grime. In places, this exposed remnants  of the original decoration, which were re-attached and augmented with minimal retouching to indicate the original colour scheme. A number of different techniques were used to suit specific materials and various types of damage. Masonry was consolidated and decayed timber was replaced. A new roof cover was installed, matching traditional construction techniques with a cover of modern insulating material.

In all instances, interventions were only done where necessary, retaining as much original material as possible.

Adaptive work aiming at making the building useful for the local community was carried out after some delay in the spring 2015. Artisans practicing traditional crafts, who are numerous in the neighbourhood, can display their wares on a rotational basis in the showcases installed in the hawd.

“HANDS ON”, a website presenting the craftspeople of the area and its historic heritage was produced by ARCHiNOS in conjunction with the project and launched in November 2014.

The project was funded by the Delegation of the European Union to Egypt, with a contribution from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The project was institutionally affiliated to the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo Division.

On 8 July 2015 the hawd was officially opened by the Minister of Antiquities, the EU Ambassador to Egypt and representatives of other parties involved, in the presence of the Governor of Cairo. The opening was marked by Sultan’s Festival celebrating Qaitbey’s achievements and the skills of local craftsmen.

The opening event on Youtube:,

The event on Facebook:

Press release from the European Union Delegetion to Egypt (pdf)

Speech by Ambassador James Moran, Head of the EU Delegation to Egypt at the opening event (pdf)

April 2014 – September 2014 and April-June 2015

Location: Eastern cemetery (“Desert of the Mamluks” – sahrat al-mamalik), “City of the Dead”, Cairo

Project Director: Agnieszka Dobrowolska;
Site Manager: Mahmud al-Badawi;
Documentation Supervisor: Hesham Akl;
Historical Research: Jaroslaw Dobrowolski

Camels at the Watering Place

by Jean-Léon Gérôme, detail. The architecture is based on the hawd of Sultan Qaitbey at the Eastern Cemetery.

Courtesy of The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York