Part of a larger complex that includes a madrasa and a mausoleum, the wikala of el-Ghoury is considered to be the archetypical caravanserai, or wikala, within the city. At the time of its construction, this wikala was a means of providing income for the funerary complex on either side of it, along the qasaba. It also represented a novel solution for the problem of limited space, combining accommodation with a wikala.
A large rectangular building, it is a five-story structure arranged around a central paved courtyard. Its two lower levels are of stone construction, while its upper levels are built of agar brick. The building has only one façade facing a main street, its northwestern wall, which faces el-Gammalayya Street. The main entry portal lies in the approximate center of this wall, composed of a pointed stone arch inset within a massive tripartite niche, four stories in height and adorned with a complex muqarnas pattern. Above the pointed arch is a band of carved inscriptions surmounted by three openings positioned within the patterning of the muqarnas. The first (ground) level elevation is mute, as it corresponds to the storage rooms opening onto the main courtyard. Each of the higher levels has a different type of exterior opening, corresponding to its interior function, on the main elevation.
A two-storied arcaded portico rings the interior courtyard and provides access to the rooms on the first two floors. Chambers on the first level were used to house livestock, pack animals, and merchandise, while the second level was comprised of 30 vaulted rooms used mainly for the storage of goods. These two levels comprise the "wikala".
The top three floors are occupied by 29 apartments, each a vertically arranged, three-story triplex, comprising the permanent accommodations (rab') part of the structure. The entrances of the apartments are on the third floor and lead onto a vestibule with a stone staircase leading to the upper (fourth) level. Once on the fourth floor, another stone staircase leads to the fifth story. The apartments are not identical, and the rooms within the three floors of each apartment vary in size and ceiling height considerably, and include a bathroom on the third floor.
The architectural treatment of the courtyard-facing elevations reflects the varying levels of privacy of each level. This is evidenced in the multiple types of openings facing the courtyard. The uppermost three levels are more private, and therefore do not open directly onto the central space. Rather, the courtyard-facing windows on the third and fourth floors are tripartite openings with simple wooden latticework (their variance in length reflecting the difference in floor heights), while the uppermost openings are framed by a more elaborate wooden mashrabiyya structure.
The wikala has been restored numerous times, most recently in 2004. Currently, it houses artist's studios and small workshops for artisans such as bronze engravers, while the courtyard often serves as a venue for cultural events.
Behrens-Abouseif, Doris. Islamic Architecture in Cairo, 39-40. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989.
Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan Bloom. The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800, 94-95. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Architecture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 356-357. 1994.