Saving Cairo's Aslam al-Silahdar Mosque

The preservation of a 700-year-old mosque.

By American Research Center In Egypt

The Aslam al-Silahdar mosque was built in 1344 by a Mamluk prince in one of Cairo's oldest neighborhoods. It is not only an prominent landmark in the local community, but also an important part of Cairo’s medieval past.

Unfortunately, due to the expanding population, pollution, and environmental effects, the mosque had developed structural and cosmetic problems that required intervention.

View of Aslam al Silahdar before restoration by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

From 2006-2009, the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and the Agha Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) carried out a comprehensive project to restore and conserve the mosque, making sustainable improvements that would protect the building from further damage.   

General view of Aslam al Silahdar (2007-09) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The mosque was once a magnificent example of Islamic art and architecture, though many of the beautiful decorations on both the interior and exterior had been damaged, lost, or discolored since the building's creation.

Wood restoration of door (2007-11) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

As part of the conservation, the dome of the mosque received a thorough cleaning, and the areas where plaster had been cracked or lost were filled in. 

The beautiful mosaic calligraphy around the drum of the dome was badly damaged and had to be re-plastered and re-painted. It reads, "By the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful".  

The dome of Aslam al Silahdar before and after restorationAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The marble decoration above the entrances on the south and west façades were cleaned of dirt and grime that had accumulated over the centuries.

The southwest facade before restoration by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Conservation efforts revealed beautifully colored stones, intricate mosaics, and the distinctive red and white striped bands of the walls. 

Restoration of the marble decoration on northwest facade (2007-11) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The broken stones of the impressive marble mosaic floor were replaced, preserving the striking entrance of the mosque.   

Mosque interior, floor during restoration (2008-10) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The eastern wall (qibla iwan) and its prayer niche (mihrab) underwent extensive repairs as well.  

Restoration, stucco decoration, mosque courtyard façade (2007-11) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

The stucco decorations received a rigorous cleaning with special poultices that would not damage the original materials.

Marble decorations within the niche were in very poor condition and had to be dismantled and reinstalled.  

Courtyard of Aslam al Silahdar by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Interior gypsum decoration before restoration, Matjaz Kacicnik, 2006-06, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
,
The restored facade inside Aslam al Silahdar, Matjaz Kacicnik, 2008-10, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
Show lessRead more

Assessing the Structure

Before starting restoration, the project commissioned a structural report of the mosque to assess the damage and identify the best materials and methods for reconstruction.

They discovered that the mosque was originally built with plastered limestone blocks and a mud brick foundation.  

Architectural drawing, façade (2006-06) by Arab Consulting EngineersAmerican Research Center In Egypt

On the roof, layers of insulation were installed to prevent water damage, and both the interior and exterior of the roof were re-wired with new lighting fixtures to showcase the mosque’s restoration.  

Roof hydro insulation (2007-11) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Windows on the northwest facade of Aslam al Silahdar before restoration, Matjaz Kacicnik, 2006-06, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
,
Northwest facade after restoration, Matjaz Kacicnik, 2008-10, From the collection of: American Research Center In Egypt
Show lessRead more

The windows of the mosque had wooden frames that began to decay and metal supports had to be installed. These supports were removed and the wood was replaced or restored.  

Many of the mosque’s wooden doors contained intricate geometric inlaid decoration, much of which had fallen off and all of which needed cleaning.  

The restored marble panel on the southwest facade (2006-06) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Local craftsmen were employed to create new inlays and restored the doors using traditional materials and techniques.   

Community involvement and training are pivotal elements of modern cultural heritage management and conservation and have become standard in recent ARCE projects.   

Wood restoration (2008-10) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Continuing the Legacy

Today, a decade after its restoration, Aslam al-Silahdar mosque continues to be used and appreciated by locals and visitors. It remains a religious hub within the al-Darb al-Ahmar neighborhood and is a reminder of the rich cultural and architectural legacy of Historic Cairo.

Dome detail, inscription band (2007-11) by Matjaz KacicnikAmerican Research Center In Egypt

Discover More:

Credits: Story

The conservation and documentation of the Aslam al-Silahdar mosque was implemented by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and was co-funded by AKTC and the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) under the Egyptian Antiquities Project (EAP) made possible through funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Click here to learn more about ARCE's conservation work.


Created by Andreas Kostopoulos, Tessa Litecky, and Beth Wang, ARCE 
Visit ARCE at www.arce.org 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps