The Mamluks, members of the military oligarchy that ruled Egypt from 1250 to 1516, were constantly engaged in fierce and often vicious power struggles, but at the same time they were great patrons of art and architecture.
Amir Baha’ al-Din Aslam al-Silahdar was one of these warriors who combined ferocity with piety and patronage of arts. His checkered career spanned the reigns of two great sultans, al-Mansur Qalawun al-Alfi and his son al-Nasir Muhammad, and the intrigues surrounding the quick succession of the latter’s numerous sons. Aslam rose through the ranks of Mamluks, and during the third reign of al-Nasir Muhammad (who had been deposed and reinstated twice) was made a silahdar, or Sword-Bearer to the Sultan, acting as the Controller of Armaments. In 1326, however, he was accused of treason and spent six years imprisoned in Alexandria. After his release he regained his previous position, but was later transferred to Safad in Palestine. He was allowed to return to Egypt after Sultan al-Nasir’s death in 1340, and he died in Cairo in 1346. Aslam was unusual among his Mamluk companions for being a religious scholar and a teaching shaykh. In 1344-45 he had the mosque bearing his name built in Cairo.
The mosque is located in a busy traditional neighborhood between the Bab Zuwayla, the Darb al-Ahmar area, and al-Azhar Park created by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. More than just a place of prayer, a neighborhood mosque is a focal point of community life. Heritage conservation can also stimulate social development and promote cultural tourism. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture has implemented social development projects and is involved in urban revitalization of the neighborhood, aiming to invigorate the area with visitors from the neighboring al-Azhar Park. The conserved Mosque of Aslam al-Silahdar contributes to the transformation of the whole area.
Jodido, Philip, ed. 2011. "Case Studies: Egypt" In The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme: Strategies for Urban Regeneration. Munich: Prestel, 72-109.
The notion of culture as an asset rather than as a drain on resources is still a new concept in many parts of the world. Culture is considered a luxury in an era of unmet social and economic needs. The sad result is that both tangible and intangible cultures are succumbing to decay or decline. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme has shown how culture can be a catalyst for development in even the poorest and most remote areas of the globe. From Afghanistan to Zanzibar, from India to Mali, the Programme’s support to communities demonstrates how conservation of cultural heritage, coupled with urban regeneration efforts, can provide a springboard for social and economic development. This publication highlights, through case studies, drawings and images, the work of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme over the past 20 years.