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Qa’it Bay Sabil in Cairo

The intricate marble and stone facade of Qa'it Bay sabil.

The intricate marble and stone facade of Qa'it Bay sabil.

The splendor of Cairo’s sabils probably reached its height with that of the illustrious Sultan Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa’it Bay, who ruled from 1468 to 1496. Very large for a sabil, Qa’it Bay’s stands alone, unattached to mosque, mausoleum or monastery. Thanks to a recent scrubbing by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, its exterior looks as fresh as the year it was built, in the late 15th century. And what an exterior! Qa’it Bay’s architects must have been confident men: the sabil’s extensive facade is made up of a profusion of different inlaid marble patterns – waves of water, triangles, squares, circles and stars – that yet work together in harmony. Though the sabil is waterless, its kutab is still in use, and every morning, in a different kind of harmony, children’s voices float down over the noise of passing traffic. (Text from: From Water All that Lives by John Feeney.)

Qa'it Bay sabil. A trilobed arch surmounts the portal and an unusual medallion design surmounts the iron-grated front windows that characterize sabils. A band of calligraphy, indicated in both details, hints at the building’s design program.

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