Egypt’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ahmed Issa and Ambassador Beth Jones, US Chargé d’Affaires ad interim to Egypt, on Tuesday night opened a visitor centre next to the mosque and the mausoleum of Imam Al-Shafi’i in Cairo’s City of the Dead.
The building previously served as a sabil (water dispensary) topped by a kuttab (school for teaching Quran). The project is funded by the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) and implemented by Athar Lina initiative of ‘Megawra’.
Imam Al-Shafi’i (767-820) was one of the four imams and founder of the Shafi’i school of thought.
His mausoleum is unique as it contains rare examples of plaster decorations, ornate woodwork, and exquisite compositions of coloured wood in distinctive patterns in addition to its huge dome.
It was built by Sultan Al-Kamil Al-Ayyubi in 1211 on top of the grave of Imam Al-Shafi’i in honour and veneration of him.
It was restored in 2021 after five years of work under the supervision of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and was implemented by the Athar Lina initiative of ‘Megawra’ and funded by the AFCP.
The minister said that since the mausoleum has been reopened, it has received a great demand from visitors and tourists.
“It receives approximately 700 visitors on weekdays and 1,000 visitors on public holidays and religious celebrations,” he said.
“Based on this, the idea of establishing the visitor centre was urgent. So the sabil and kuttab were repurposed after years of neglect.”
He added that this comes in light of the Ministry’s keenness to improve the tourism experience for visitors to archaeological sites and museums in Egypt, especially Cairo, which is rich in historical and heritage sites.
Ambassador Jones said the visitor centre’s focus on youth – instilling a respect and passion for history and cultural preservation among young people and tourists – is very much in keeping with the spirit of Imam Shafi’i and his worldview.
“We look forward to continuing the partnership with the Egyptian people and the government to ensure that Egypt’s rich cultural and religious heritage is preserved and protected for centuries to come,” she said.
Through the AFCP, the US government has invested $120 million in cultural heritage preservation efforts in Egypt to date. The US Embassy in Cairo will also receive requests to establish additional sites in Egypt to consider funding through the 2024 AFCP in November.
SCA Secretary General Mostafa Waziry said this project is an important promotion of cultural tourism.
“It will spread archaeological and tourism awareness among visitors and residents of the surrounding area,” he added.
The centre includes a room for educational and artistic activities for children, which provide them to learn about the history of Egypt and its Islamic civilisation through stories, tales, games, and colouring workshops.
There is another room displaying excavations where there are remains of the walls of the Fatimid dome that had not been mentioned before in historical sources. In addition to inscriptions, and decorative elements hidden behind layers of modern paint.
Rafik Mansour, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, May Al-Ibrashy, founder and chair of Megawra in addition to representatives from the Ministry of Endowments attended the opening ceremony.