The wikala of Sultan Qaytbay
During his pilgrimage to Mecca in 884/1479, Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf ad-Din Qayt Bay (Mamluk Sultan of the Tower (Burjites) of Egypt from 1468 to 1496) was greatly affected by the scarcity situation. in which were the needy of Mecca.
Returning to Cairo, he decided in 885/1480 to build a wikala (caravanserai, a commercial establishment with housing for the merchants) with the intention of investing a part of his income in the purchase of ground grain (dachicha) for distributing it to the poor of the Holy Places. This is why the establishment is known as Wikala al-Dachicha.
A number of Cairo wikala or caravanserai date back to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. They were shopping centers for the exchange of goods between countries and regions, which required the provision of a hotel for merchants and their clients who were staying in Cairo for a while.
Above the arch of the door, an inscription in calligraphy of the Thoulouth style invokes: “In the name of God, the Clement, the Merciful, this blessed place was built by the will of our Lord, the teaching of our Prophet and by our King, His Highest Majesty Al-Malik Al-Achraf Abi Al-Nasr Qaytbay, may God glorify His victory, and He has constituted waqf to provide for the maintenance of the Prophet’s relatives in Medina, to provide for the maintenance of relatives of the Prophet in Medina, to buy wheat and turn it into dachicha for the needy of the city and for those who arrive there, in honor of God “. Waqf Charter No. 885 (894/1489) in the name of Sultan Qaytbay is kept in the archives of the Ministry of Religious Foundations in Cairo. She said that the Sultan had built this caravanserai to create a source of income to buy ground wheat (dachicha) to distribute to the poor of Medina in the Hejaz.
This wikala is considered as the model of the caravanserais of the Mamluk period. It included storage and trading areas as well as housing for the merchants and their customers. The floor plan was organized around a rectangular courtyard surrounded by warehouses surmounted by three levels containing the apartments reserved for merchants.
Throughout time to the present day, some of the warehouses on the ground floor and, on the first floor have survived time. Its facade, overlooking Bab al-Nasr Street, is lengthened and divided into three heights by horizontal lines. In the middle is the main entrance, flanked on each side by five shops, each of which is crowned, at the upper height, with three openings protected by an iron gate. At the same level as these windows comes the trefoil arch of the main entrance, whose spandrels are decorated with floral motifs in relief surrounding a circular medallion with the emblem of Sultan Qaytbay.
Of the five accesses that the wikala had, only three survived through the years. On one of the sides of the entrance, a text in calligraphy Thoulouth proclaims: “Cursed son of cursed, the one who would defraud in this wikala, the wikala of the Prophet, or who would cheat on the weight”.
The entrance leads to a corridor covered by two types of vaults: a rib vault with a ribbed decor and a barrel vault. The constitutive document of the Waqf (habous) states that the wikala was composed of a courtyard where the warehouses were located, accessed by stairs and that the side doors served the rooms of the upper floor, which had homes where the merchants lived. Nowadays, there are 30 stores on the courtyard with vaulted rooms used as storerooms and stalls for merchandise.
SOURCE: Mamelouk Art – Splendor and Magic of the Sultans and discoverislamicart