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Valentine Denizeau, Sylvie Denoix
Le sultan promoteur. Aménagement urbain dans Le Caire du VIIIe/XIVe siècle
Country management being a royal privilege, Mamluk sultans didn’t miss their kingly duty: they fit out their capital and its surroundings. In Cairo particularly, the challenge was quite demanding, as the capital was found on the edges of a lively river, providing each year its uncertain summer flood, but also shifting from one bank to the other at the current’s discretion. In Cairo as in the countryside, the feeder river had to be regulated and controlled to assure safety to its inhabitants as well as to supply them with fresh water all year long. Those two requirements, water supply and security, couldn’t be without a dynamic politics of water management. Regarding the Nile and Cairo, it consisted in digging channels, building and maintaining dykes, dams, levees and aqueducts; an everyday task demanding tremendous and continuous efforts.
As the river bed was shifting more and more westward during medieval times, eroding banks and transporting and depositing its loads along the edges, new banks were progressively created in Cairo. First undetermined swampy unwelcoming lands, they soon became suitable for a human utilization first, then for settlement and urbanization. This is how, at the beginning of the 8th/14th century, a significant piece of “new land” appears along the channel of Cairo (ḫalīǧ). Immediately considerate as a major opportunity for developing Cairo, this land, once dried, stabilized and secured, is leased in long lasting rents by the sultan al-Nāṣir Muḥammad. The story of the process of the sultan’s investment on that urban operation, retraced thanks to his waqf deed, is an excellent source of information about the Mamluk power’s involvement in urban promotion.
Keywords: mamluk Cairo – al-Nāṣir Muḥammad b. Qalāwūn – urban management – ḫalīǧ.