Fountain of Qaitbay (Sabil Qaytbay)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Fountain of Qaitbey (نافورة قايتباي), also known as the Sabil of al-Sultan Qāʼit Bāy (سبيل قايتباي), was originally constructed in 1455 CE on the orders of the Egyptian Sultan al-Ashraf Sayf ad-Din Enal. In 1482, however, Sultan Qaitbay had it rebuilt, and the structure is named after him. The labour of erecting the building was done by Egyptian, and Circassian craftsmen under the supervision of a renowned Christian architect. This took place just three months after the completion of the nearby Madrasa Al-Ashrafiyya (also named after him), which Qaytbay had ordered built to replace another earlier Mamluk building (in this case, a madrasa built by Sultan Khusqadam in 1465).


The fountain was constructed in a style mostly seen in Egypt. In 1883, the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II restored the fountain and constructed some additions to it. It is a domed public fountain (sabil) located on the western esplanade of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, situated fifty metres west of the Dome of the Rock. The Bab al-Qattanin is located to the north-west and Bab al-Silsilah is located to the south-west. It has been called "the most beautiful edifice in the Haram al-Sharif" after the Dome of the Rock.

circa 1527 CE

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 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.


circa 1527 CE

Inscriptions of Quranic Verses
On all four sides the fountain is ornated with inscriptions containing Qur'anic verses, details of the original Mamluk building and the 1883 renovation of the structure. Mamluk-era star-pattern strap work details the building interior, but the external lintels are from the Ottoman era of rule in Palestine. The 1883 renovation largely kept Qaitbay's structure mostly intact.

circa 1527 CE

At its peak, the building is crowned by a pointed dome decorated with low-relief arabesque stone carvings and then topped with a bronze crescent, which, unlike other crescents in the sanctuary, faces east and west. It is the only significant dome of its kind that exists outside Cairo. The windows are located on three sides of the building, and there are four steps leading up to the windows on the northern and the western sides, as well as a large stone bench beneath the southern window.

Mastaba Sabil Qaitbey

circa 1527 CE

Placed on a raised prayer platform, together with a freestanding mihrab (inspect), the Fountain of Qayt Bay is a three-tiered structure over 13 metres high, consisting of a base, a transition zone and its dome. The tallest part of the fountain is the base, which is a simple square room built in an ablaq construction method of blending red and cream stones, with wide grilled windows and a small entrance from the east where four semi-circular steps lead up to the entrance door.


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