Shajar al-Durr: The Extraordinary Architectural Patronage of a 13th-Century Egyptian Slave-Queen


ACLS Fellowship Program


Landscape Architecture


Shajar al-Durr of thirteenth century Egypt was a rare case of a woman ruler, and her distinctive architectural patronage changed the face of Cairo and had a lasting impact on Islamic architecture. Rising from slave origins, Shajar al-Durr became concubine, wife, and regent for the Ayyubid Sultan Salih, and ultimately was appointed as the legitimate ruler after his untimely death. In architectural history, her patronage was innovative because of the tombs that she added to his madrasa (theological college) and her own, thereby transforming those institutions into commemorative monuments. For the first time, an architectural complex was empowered to stand for the founder himself, visibly and unforgettably manifest in the tomb’s high dome, rising above the urban skyline.