This essay explores the monumental intent of Cairo's Mamluk architecture by focusing on al-Darb al-Ahmar, a major thoroughfare along the route of royal processions that linked the citadel to the heart of the city. With a rather restrained number of architectural components, Mamluk patrons competed with each other in endowing monuments along the street that emphasized verticality, visibility, and domination of their urban surroundings. Al-Darb al-Ahmar was consequently transformed into a venue of exhibition where the Mamluks displayed their elaborate spatial, visual, and ceremonial grandeur and ultimately signs of their power. These Mamluk buildings attest to the outstanding monumental properties of Mamluk architecture and frame a street that, despite its deteriorating state, still exudes a bygone royal majesty.
Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. An architect and a historian, his scholarly interests include Islamic architecture and cultures, urban history, and post-colonial criticism. His most recent books are: Mamluk History Through Architecture: Building, Culture, and Politics in Mamluk Egypt and Syria (London, 2010), and an edited book, The Courtyard House between Cultural Reference and Universal Relevance (London, 2010). A forthcoming book, al-Naqd Iltizaman (Criticism as Commitment), will be published in 2014 in Beirut.