CAIRO.– Near City Gate
LE CAIRE.– Un coin de la Ville Arabe.
Publisher: Levy Sons & Co. (1895-1919)
Bab Zuweila is one of three remaining gates in the walls of the Old City of Cairo, the capital of Egypt. It was also known as Bawabbat al-Mitwali during the Ottoman period, and is sometimes spelled Bab Zuwayla. It is considered one of the major landmarks of the city and is the last remaining southern gate from the walls of Fatimid Cairo in the 11th and 12th century. Its name comes from Bab, meaning “gate”, and Zuwayla, the name of an ethnic group recruited into the Fatimid army from the town of Zuwayla in the Fezzan.
The city of Cairo was founded in 969 as the royal city of the Fatimid dynasty. In 1092, the vizier Badr al-Jamali had a second wall built around Cairo. Bab Zuweila was the southern gate in this wall. It has twin towers (minarets) which can be accessed via a steep climb. In earlier times they were used to scout for enemy troops in the surrounding countryside, and in modern times, they are hailed for providing one of the best views of Old Cairo. The structure also has a famous platform. Executions would sometimes take place there, and it was also from this location that the Sultan would stand to watch the beginning of the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Sometimes the severed heads of criminals would be displayed along the tops of the walls. This was done as recently as 1811, when the severed heads of Mamluks from the Citadel massacre were mounted on spikes here. The corresponding gate on the northern side of the city was the Bab al-Futuh, which still stands on the northern side of the Muizz street.
Bab Zuwayla functioned as the southern entrance to the original Fatimid settlement from A.D. 969 (when ‘al-Qahirah’ or ‘Cairo’ was founded), and was reconstructed in stone in the late eleventh century A.D. by Badr al-Gamali, the de facto ruler of Egypt. During restoration work by ARCE it was discovered that the two massive doors of the Bab Zuwayla, each weighing almost 4 tons, moved on ball bearings, which were initially placed on display in the monument following the completion of the project. Colloquially, the gate is also known as Bab al-Mitwalli after a popular Sufi saint who is associated with the location.
American Research Centre in Egypt
An Armenian himself, al-Jamali is reported to have employed Armenians from northern Mesopotamia as well as Syrians in a vast building campaign which he embarked on shortly after he assumed power. This work marks the beginning of a newly cultivated taste for stone in Cairo. The Byzantine and north Syrian stone details and techniques demonstrate the most direct encounter between neighboring regional building traditions, manifested in the importation of architects and possibly of manpower.