This elegant sabil (water-house) was built by the Mamluk Sultan al-Ashraf Qaytbay, who reestablished the sultanate after a period of political turmoil and economic decline. His reign was also a time of great revival of the arts, in which architecture was characterized by elegance and harmony rather than size.
The sabil is located on the west esplanade of the Haram al-Sharif, not far from the Qaytbay's madrasa (al-Ashrafiyya). Entirely made of stone, its elongated and graceful form is achieved by the juxtaposition of several elements one on top of the other. The sabil is placed on a raised prayer platform, together with a freestanding mihrab. Its base is a simple square room (4.60x4.80x7.65m), with wide grilled windows and a small entrance. The tall zone of transition steps in several stages from the square base to the round and high drum that merges into the dome itself. At its peak, the building is crowned by a pointed dome decorated with arabesque stone carvings. It is the only significant dome of this kind that exists outside Cairo. The overall height is 13.28m. The base is built mainly by the ablaq construction method of alternating red and cream-colored stones.
The inscriptions around the exterior of the sabil point to three main stages of construction. The first sabil was built by Sultan Inal (c. 1450). In 1482 it was replaced by the present construction of Sultan Qaytbay. The sabil went through a major restoration in 1883 under the Ottoman Sultan 'Abd al-Hamid. Both the 1883 restoration and later transformations left the original design of Qaytbay relatively intact.
Blair, Sheila and Bloom, Jonathan. The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800, 109-113. New Haven and London: Yale University Press and Pelican History of Art, 1994.
Burgoyne, Michael Hamilton. Mamluk Jerusalem: An Architectural Study, 606-612. Jerusalem: British School of Archeology in Jerusalem, 1987.