Sunday, April 20, 2008

Shajar al-Durr - the only Sultana of Egypt

Also posted on

The only female Sultana to have ruled Egypt for 80 days.

She was of Turkish origin and was originally a slave in the harem of the Caliph of Baghdad. She was later gifted to the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt & Syria who fell in love with her and married her.

On the sultans death, his son took over. The son alienated the Mamluk slaves, who soon assassinated him and the step mother Shajar al Durr was proclaimed as Sultana.

Several months later— due to political pressure for a male sultan— Shajar al-Durr married an important Mamluk officer, Aybak. Together, they initiated the first Mamluk Dynasty of Egypt and Syria. They shared power in a combination of cooperation and suspicion for seven years. She thus was a sultana of Ayyubid Egypt and also the co-founder of the Mamluk dynasty

She later murdered Aybak - her second husband when she discovered that he had been plotting against her. She was subsequently beaten to death with shoes by the rest of Aybak's concubines.

To date, to the best of my knowledge, she has been the only female ruler of Egypt other than Cleopatra & Hatchepsut.

Her tomb can be visited even today in Cairo. My friend Camel, who is extremely knowledgeable on these matters (location & history of various monuments in Cairo) gave me these directions:

Dear Kim,

I visited the Tomb of Shajar al-Durr before, and it sure is around Ibn Tulun Mosque, a walking distance from it.

It is not the most pleasant of neighbourhoods, but the locals know the place, and they call it “Obbet el-Sitt Shagaret el-Durr”.

Just before Ibn Tulun, there is a street called al-Khalifa. Ask anyone to point the direction. If they don’t know, ask them for the Mosque of al-Sayyeda Sakina (it’s in al-Khalifa Street).

Walk that street till you reach al-Sayyeda Sakina Mosque, then go on straight ahead in the same street, and you will find the Tomb of Shajar al-Durr to your left.

If you go on in this street, you will reach Midan al-Sayyeda Nafisa, and you can visit her mosque too.

Camel – Keeper of the Temple


Gee said...

You can add the pharaoh Hatshepsut to the female rulers of Egypt :)

Nice post anyways

Kim said...

oops. How on earth did I forget her?
Maybe because she called herself a "him" LOL

Thanks Gee, I musta lost my mind for a moment. I've made the correction.

Deepa Krishnan said...

In India, we have Razia Sultan who ruled for 4 short years from 1236 to 1240 (she didn't call herself Sultana!).

She was also of the Mamluk Dynasty, she was daughter of Iltutmish.

Her story is very fascinating, she had an Abysynnian lover and fell out of favour with the court nobles.

Bruce Heard said...

I stumbled on this and found it very interesting. Is it possible visit the *inside* of the mausoleum? I found many pictures of the building's outside, but none of the casket and the inside of the tomb. I'm trying to find out how old the present casket is. I'd be very happy if you could help. Thanks for posting this.

Karishma Pais said...

Bruce, I'm not sure about that, because I did not have the chance to visit before I left. And I'm no longer based in Egypt.

However, even if things r locked up, if you cab find the "caretaker/keykeeper", he/she will open it for you for a couple of pounds of baksheesh

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