Architecture and ornaments of Suakin city, civil architecture

Sun, 15 Oct 2017


Suakin houses, whether the one-storey or multiple storey ones, have been established on the philosophy of the Islamic concept of preparing the house for the Muslim family, which observed the entire architectural environment founded, according to jurisprudence, upon accumulative experience and tradition. The most important of what distinguishes this philosophy is what planning has adopted in observing simplicity, privacy and consistency with environment (Khalid Mustafa A'zab, 53) for being considered as inevitable conditions. Hence, the issues of privacy and publicity, which characterized social life, were attentively observed. This philosophy has been adopted with respect to the centrality of the mosque, and the Principality (ruler's house) adjacent to it. Then all these were surrounded by the market. The hosing plans come to surround all such in an organization and bases, which were also observed according to the circumstances of each city establishment. On the other hand, distribution of living within the house was left to the jurisprudent constants, which were based on allocating parts of the house solely to the family. At the same time, it was keen on allocating a place for other than family members wherein they were received, provided that they were separated in the interior architectural planning. In this manner, the houses observed such allocation, whether in the courtyard houses, or multi-storey ones. Also, the civil buildings in Suakin city were characterized by the Islamic cities characteristics, and shared with them their forms, shape and design of their plans, their decoration of ornaments, whether in the niches, doors and windows, or in the gypsum decoration works. That also applied to religious architecture in Suakin buildings, for they preserved the mosque various elements, and the representation of engraved ornaments, despite their simplicity. The paper concludes with findings and recommendations.



Architecture is a witness of time with its fluctuations and awakenings and, as well, closely observes the society movement, whether in prosperity or hardship. It is the transcriber of construction movement, and whatever it embodies of the engineering sciences, as well as practicing diverse arts aspects. It is also a witness to its history, with its overflowing political, social and economic events, as well as other civilization indicators occurring in it, for architecture has, through past civilizations and the heritage thereof, the credit in recording and preserving the history of humanity.

The walls of the obliterated city, Suakin, carried the story of its inhabitants, as well as their history, which was replete with events and facts. Therefore, the most significant aspect of development of any nation is the volume of construction and building. This usually occurs with the available techniques, general disposition and building materials, and contributes to the excellence of such a civilization. Therefore, the surrounding environment affected the production of the construction appearance and characteristics, as well as its building techniques. Architecture as an engineering art, the same as other arts, must be in conformance with the society requirements, and meet its traditions, customs and values. It is worth mentioning that the Islamic architectural art has preserved those social fundamentals, which are based on Faith. Suakin is considered a miniature model of an Islamic small Turkish city. Similar to other Red Sea coastal cities, such as Musawa', Jidda, El- Hodeidah, Momkhat and A'sat, it has been constructed during the period extending from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century, as 'Greenlaw' believed.

Construction of cities in each of Arabia and Africa has two marks, either the desert or coastal. The desert buildings have thick walls the thickness of which diminishes as they rise. They are characterized by the upward vertical line to the interior, as well as the high ceiling. Openings called ports are opened up the walls where they meet the ceiling, in order to accomplish two functions: the first is to minimize the incoming light, which is the source of energy and heat; the second is to allow hot air movement upwards, and consequently, preserve a large amount of humid bracing air in the interior. Due to similar climates, we find that this built of mud type has spread to Morocco and North Africa, and extended to Nubia, Sudan, Somalia, Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Mali. Also, it prevailed in the Western Sudan (Chad, North Nigeria and Niger).

Regarding the coastal regions, they adapted their houses according to the nature of the sea and land beyond. Hence, houses were constructed to benefit from the sea breezes and, at the same time, avoid the "simoom" and the sun. Their walls were characterized by being straight, and not slanting on the upper parts. We also find that they are constituted of two or three flats, with small windows to direct air between the flats, whereas their protruding windows attract the bracing air from the narrow streets. The staircase between the flats draws the hot and cold air behind it upwards, thus replacing the warm air in the house with cool air. All such creates a permanent invigorating weather within the house. The roofs of such houses are used for sleeping. In all the coast and islands of Eastern Africa, as well as to the interior, the Shirazi culture spread and is manifested in the customs, arts, as well as building with stones and the sun-dried bricks, made according to the Persian method.

Old Suakin:   

Suakin city is smaller in size than Jidda. The Hijazis built it according to the pattern of their city, Jidda.  Most of the buildings were of three-or-four floors, and look similar in their horizontal projections. The houses adjoin together in the form of blocks of three or four houses, separated by small alleys. The houses are characterized by their white color (white-washed). The ornaments are distributed on the doors, windows and others. The island's houses are divided into Turkish ones, which were built prior to 1865, and Egyptian and such were the houses pursuant to that period. They are totally different. The island was, as described by Captain Don Juan Da Castro, crowded with houses as from being besieged by the Portuguese navy in 1510 (Figure No, 1.)

The island is surrounded by water and is also surrounded, from the edge direction, by walls constructed by Kitchener, with a still standing and complete huge gate, which is Kitchener Gate, Eastern Sudan Gate (Figure No. 2). And he annexed it to the gate that was named after him, and stood splendidly before the city entrance. However, it also fell down in 1970, and was maintained after that. There is a guard room on each side thereof. There is also a wooden bench suspended up the huge wooden door, which was used for surveillance. The two ports at the two sides of could be used for guns if necessary. There were, until 1974, on the gate side from the exterior, and on its sides, two old rusty guns. The Eastern Sudan Gate is also called the Beach Gate, and was built in 1888, and there were guarding rooms within it. It was the only inlet in the defensive wall line to the island, which was also built by Kitchener,  and included a number of castles. Also, among the gates, there was the Customs Gate, which remained erect up to the 1970s, and is characterized by the Egyptian buildings technique. On the top of such, a lion statue was erected. Regarding Gordon Pasha, he linked the edge to the island by means of earth filling in1877, which Uncle Hussein observed that it impeded the circulation of water (Uncle Hussein, an interview in 1998.) The waves which struck the sides thereof incurred violent vibrations, which, it is believed, affected the buildings themselves. The landmarks outside the island and linked to the island are, before entering through the earth filling, the mosque of Othman Taj- Assir, while the Shinawi agency was not far from the earth filling leading to the island. Also, one of the distinguished landmarks outside the island, was the Majidi mosque, near the Shinawi agency, which was the oldest in the Suakin mosques on the edge (Figure No. 3.) There were also two great private mosques: the Mosawi and the Magzoubi private mosques (Fawzia Abdulrahman, ibid: 21.)


Planning of Suakin city:

It is evident that the oval shape of the island has governed the Suakin city planning, not to mention that the planning thereof has clearly been affected by the Islamic philosophy methodology in city planning, in which the Messenger, pbuh, in his planning of Al-Madina Al-Monawura, was adopted. Such was how the first Islamic cities were similar after that, in Basra, Koufa, Fistat, Qeirawan and others. Their adoption of this methodology meant concern about experience accumulation, and transfer of knowledge in that sphere. It seems that the planning g of Suakin, which was constructed after Islam in its architectural form about which this study is concerned, has followed the same methodology adopted in the Islamic city. The two old mosques, the Shafi'e and the Hanafi, were located in the beginning of the north-eastern half from the center of the island (nearer to the middle of the island), whereas the market, which was the pivot of the city movement, was located at its core; the house of the Pasha, the representative of official authority, was erected at the city center, near to the market, while the Judiciary House was not far away.

Such were the fundamental planning concerns in the Islamic city. Whereas the housing plans in the first military cities were distributed, according to the density of tribes, to quarters, wherein each includes its mosque, the island's small size, and non-tribal affiliation of inhabitants, made the houses dispensation therein subject to the island's general order. Nonetheless, the existence of five spread in the island private mosques, other than the two mosques, matches the notion of quarter's mosques in the Islamic city. This indicated the island inhabitants' holding fast to that methodology. Following an imaginary line starting from the earth filling, straight to the Shafi'e mosque, we observe that it divided the island into two halves, from which the mosques and private mosques seemed to almost surround the market in an arc movement in both halves, while the arc on which the mosques and private mosques fell, was turning, and almost similar to the opposite shore line (contour.)

Positioning worship places in this manner facilitated practicing worship, whether to those staying at home, and the majority, who were men frequenting the facilities and market, wherein they spend most of their day, as from exiting for the dawn prayers up to the sun-set (Dr. Ba'shar, an interview,) and the edge from the other side facing the island, stood complementing the city extension. The housing quarters spread around its fundamental land-marks, which were the mosques and the market. All such facilities, as well as Al-Shinawi agency, were concentrated near the island entrance. The other buildings were spread to constitute another oval form, but larger than the island's oval form. Whereas the island's oval shape took a south-west to north-east direction, the oval edge planning form took the direction from the north-west to the south-east.

It is also observed that the first settlers of the island had been concerned with a fundamental principle observed in selecting the new Islamic cities locations, which was protection. Such was clearly evident in Suakin, whether in its safe harbor for ships, or in the island for its inhabitants, for it was totally isolated by water from the beach. Though the city was crowded with houses, its small area facilitated traffic therein. There were two main roads, which set off directly from behind Gordon Gate and branch off from Shams house western point, adjacent to Mohammed Bey Aboud's house, where a small open space extended, from its northern side headed the arc road, which flowed with a gentle deviation to the Principality and Customs; whereas the other road headed eastwards from Shams house corner, directly to the market center, which was replete with activities and large numbers of inhabitants. Nonetheless, they did not find any difficulty in reaching any part of the city shores, from the adjoining houses, with occasionally narrow and wide alleys.

It seemed that the island's construction activity had started from its centre, and grew from the center outward in the direction of its beaches. The evidence to such was the existence of buildings of modern foundations on the beach, such as the Eastern Telegraph Company, the Principality, National Bank, Catholic Church, Mitchill Cotch, Sitt Zeenat Al-Mirghania's house. All such were renowned as being of the Egyptian type. Nonetheless, Suakin's general appearance was characterized by harmony. The reason for that was attributed to the elevations of its adjoining houses, as well as the local building materials used in their construction, which meant a unified technique in their usage, (Figure No. 3). There are not any records about the type of houses preceding the buildings of Suakin Island prior to the Arab and Turkish construction. Perhaps they were ordinary houses designed to protect residents from the sea humidity, as well as its high temperature.

The traditional residences of the Bijja tribes were made of fronds and wool mats, easily erected and dismantled to be moved with their owners and their animals' constant nomadic movement in search of grass and water. With respect to the fixed houses built of stone and otherwise, such were the characteristic of stability, which was established in Suakin Island, because the natives thereof took trading as a profession. In a subsequent period, Ahmed Mumtaz Pasha directed the merchants coming from Egypt and Hijaz, as well as the Egyptian employees and companies, to purchase lands from the natives, who were unable to build such in his way, which were multi flats. This, on the other hand, revealed that there were other buildings to which the Pasha's decision applied, i.e. the ground floor houses, the owners of which refused to sell, and were erased by the project. Khedive Ismail's concern about the Sudan coincided with his taking charge of Egypt's administration, as well as joining Suakin city and Musawa'. The first governor appointed by Khedive Ismail was Ahmed Mumtaz Pasha (Rabi' 1283H/August 1866), who was directed to be committed to the objectives of the A'zizia Company, which were to facilitate the passage of its ships through these two ports, as well as expanding construction and reactivate trading and mail (Sayed Al-Miri, ibid: 56). This meant obligating the ruler to allocate a location for the company fuel, conduct repairs in the harbor and preparing the means pertaining to the passengers' convenience, thus realizing profits for the company. Therefore, he started with the governmental and private facilities, for he started with building the principality and constructed the buildings of customs, mail and telegraph, police, prison, army barracks and the quarantine (Figure No. 4). He also installed two cotton gins inside the island to gin cotton, which he directed to cultivate in Toker, and brought some farmers to conduct agricultural guidance. The two gins continued in operation until Toker's conquest in 1883. Such actions taken by the ruler Ahmed Mumtaz Pasha attracted a lot of Egyptian and Hijazi employees. He, rather, offered facilitations, which made migration likeable to the Turkish colonies merchants (Dirar, ibid: 263), where he directed them to purchase lands from the natives who were unable to build them. It seemed from such that the activity of purchasing lands from natives and reconstruct them led to the demolition of a lot of the island original houses in the term of Mumtaz Pasha. The new owners constructed houses for them, as well as offices for their enterprises. Mumtaz Pasha also encouraged the employees to build houses for themselves, and they did so. The building materials' low costs helped in such. Mumtaz Pasha took another earnest step by bringing craftsmen (Dirar, ibid: 263.) The new ruler also directed the natives to improve their houses. In addition, he succeeded in attracting a lot of Egyptian merchants, and encouraged a marine company, whose Suakin Branch was managed by Mohammed Bey Al-Shinawi (Dirar, ibid: 83-84).

Suakin buildings:

It is possible to divide the building in Suakin into two groups, and in such the time aspect is observed, regarding the oldness of houses. Because Suakin, and subsequently the entire Sudan, was under the administration of Egypt, must have been affected by its cultural patterns. And Egypt itself was subjugated to Sultan Saleem in 1517, where he attracted the skilled workers and craftsmen in Cairo to participate in development. Thus the Muslim country being ruled by one ruler, made it easier to move skilled labor and craftsmen from one region to another, if necessary, or if the number thereof in a particular country was not sufficient for the desired task, whether in building or otherwise. All such had an impact on transferring tastes and techniques, as well their blending and approximating among various countries, be it known that all such synchronized with the manifestation of the Arab-Islamic art features (Fareed Shafi'e, ibid: 87). And such had, also, a negative impact on construction in Egypt, due to the movement of those craftsmen to Istanbul, the Byzantium and European patterns started to dominate Egyptian construction (Abu Salih Al-Alfi, ibid: 226.)

The researcher proves with such that the buildings of the project led by the governor Mumtaz Pasha, with Egyptian labor, carried the European pattern to the buildings of Suakin. It resisted time, stood fast and did not collapse easily, for it benefited from its small size and low elevations, which was the characteristic of that simple type of architecture. It is also observed that it was characterized with the oriental concept of the house interior design (and such can be classified in two groups.) However, it is observed that both groups shared the use of coral stone, whereas some others combined the two patterns characteristics: if the ground floor is of the Turkish pattern, the upper flats were replaced by the Egyptian pattern (Fawzia Abdulqadir, ibid: 49.)

The first group is characterized by architectural beauty that accompanied the Islamic architecture, which was depicted in Jidda, Mecca, Al- Madina and Yanbu' (during their subjugation to Istanbul), with which Suakin architecture was greatly affected (photos 4 &5.)

The second group was depicted in what had been constructed after Suakin was joined to the Khedive in Egypt (the beginning of Ismail Pasha's term. In such, the European impact coming via Egypt was observed. Though there are not any records so far that state the historical succession of houses in the island, but logic points to the ground floor houses as the start of the serial progress of agricultural development in the island. Perhaps the simplicity of the first houses was dictated by subjective circumstances.

It is also observed that the pattern of such large houses was reflected on the private and small mosques; and their small size and low elevation made it possible for them to stand fast for long. That was what characterized the buildings of such simple architectural pattern, for they resisted time, stood fast and did not collapse too soon, like the elevated multi-floor buildings, most of which were constructed during Mumtaz Pasha's term. The house of this simple pattern included one reception in the middle of its court-yard, a wall with a fence which might be wooden, then came the other additions. These were rooms in the periphery of the house wall, until such rooms completely surrounded the wall, or a part thereof, thus leaving an internal court-yard like a mosque nave.

It seemed that the number of island population was limited in that in that period, and there was enough space for all people to build in the style expansive court-yards, like the house of Khorshid Pasha (Figure No. 5). It also seemed that the need to build residences on the multi-floor system did not emerge, save after the island became crowded with migrants. That is to say, after it was renowned in the region, and the region beyond, of what it accrued from trading, as well as of wealth and profits, increasing throngs came to it. Perhaps the island had not been inhabited except with a few inhabitants whose residence was restricted to the edge. This opinion may be right to some extent, for it conforms with the prevailing belief that the island was haunted, so they did not approach it, save upon the arrival of the first migrants to the western beaches of the Red Sea, where they built their houses in that brief simple method. Perhaps there were several subjective reasons that rendered the first era houses in such a pattern. The researcher believes in two reasons, the first of which was that the first migrants were not confident of their staying for long in those unknown areas, which they knew about its natives staunch resistance to the intruders and foreigners, who usurped their lands, so they chose the island for residence, as in the case of Dahluk, A'yri and other islands. Such islands were naturally protected and separated them, to an extent, from the beach and friction with its natives. Perhaps this feeling of insecurity and uncertainty of long residence was the reason for building houses of simplified modest pattern. What assisted in such was the Turkish influx, when they spread their authority over the region, as had happened in the preceding regions, and became a matter of fact, which was accepted by the Eastern Sudan inhabitants.

Unlike the case of the first individuals and families, a new administration came and sought to organize. It was concerned about stability and construction to achieve its great objectives, and made the island flourish by recruiting technical labor and architectural patterns. The island settlers constructed their houses according to multi-floor system after the felt safe, and businesses flourished in that city.

Perhaps these opinions are sound if we look at the contents of the first houses. Though they were ground floor houses, but whatever was available to the large houses subsequently built, applied to such. The second reason, as the researcher thinks, was that the first migrants were uncertain of neither the trade success, nor its huge profits, so they constructed such houses with the minimum costs. That modest type of houses prevailed until the trading huge proceeds and large profits appeared, as well as contentment of safe residence. With respect to the house shape, room locations and dimensions, this concept applied to the houses number 410,120 and 250 (Fawzia A/Qadir, ibid: 50). The researcher considers this a proof of his opinion, for the large houses which were built a long period after the first simple ones, depicted considerable similarities between them. This meant that the owners of the former houses share the same cultural concepts with the latter in the shape of their houses and way of living, for more stability conditions were available at the time, which were not available to first houses owners, who were satisfied with simplifying their houses with the known method. Such houses, though small but were built in the same large houses technique. They also kept the same details of the large houses. Perhaps the Pasha's house (no. 184) was the oldest one in the island, and classified in the group of the first houses associated with the first settlement in the island, whose history is not yet known (Fawzia A/Qadir, ibid: 53). However, it may have constructed prior to the Turks' occupation of Suakin in 1517 or 1520. Perhaps it was the Turkish governor's house, which the Portuguese found when they occupied Suakin, and was assisted by one hundred soldiers, as a representative of the Turkish authority therein. This house, as is known, was likely the Pasha's (Figure No. 5), and that Pasha was perhaps Mumtaz Pasha. Therefore, that house was Mumtaz Pasha's, or perhaps was constructed in 1518 as the seat of the Turkish Governor.

The researcher agrees with the second trend, which means the seniority in time of the house, for the recent cracking of Suakin houses, due to lack of regular maintenance, started as from the 1930s, i.e., after a while from the influx of migration to Port Sudan, which was recently under construction. The collapses started to occur there as from not long ago, i.e., at the onset of the twentieth century. In the 1950s, Mr. Greenlaw conducted his survey of the city. At that time, this Pasha's house was in a good condition, and that was due to its being of a ground floor, as well as to the sturdy construction, which, as became evident, was executed at that time by highly qualified builders. Perhaps that means they were recruited from Jidda, which preceded Suakin in such, or recruited from other places. The building was characterized with proficiency, skill in performance, executing ornaments and tapering off stones. And perhaps it was the selfsame house, which was subsequently inhabited by Mumtaz Pasha until the Principality was completed, for being considered a new seat and more luxuriant for the new Pasha than that house.

Building technique in Suakin:

The houses of the cities and ports of the Red Sea were similar in their exterior and interior, for building in Suakin and Jidda was executed with stones extracted from the sea, which were fossils and the remains of marine petrifactions. (Borkhart, ibid: 22).

Some buildings were constructed with small stones, while others with large square ones. Horizontal partitions were placed between stones, at three feet distance inside the walls, and such were solid wooden boards called 'severances, i.e., they sever building, where stones are placed on them in the progress of building upwards. Then the wooden boards sever the building once more, and on top thereof stones were constructed upwards, and so on (Borkhart, ibid: 35.) This processing assisted in fixing the rocks, as well as their flexibility and resistance to intense pressure resulting from building and its heaviness. Such are also known as reducers, and was usually rough and circular, made of a special wood imported from India, which was the 'gandal' wood (Figure No. 6). Also, small pieces of the same 'gandal' are placed crossed with the horizontal, long and basic reducers, and they all together were, on the parapet, akin to the ladder with widely separate crossbeams. Most of the houses in Suakin and Jidda were of two floors, decorated with a lot of small ports and wooden windows, some of which were arched. Also, the upper floors in both cities were neither high, nor wide as in Egypt.

 It is observed that building in Mecca was similar to that of Jidda (Borkhart, ibid: 102-122). The streets of these cities were decorated with protruded windows or balconies overlooking the streets. Many of such were protruding from the walls and characterized with their proficient sculpture, as well as attractive paint (Brokhart, ibid: 102). The frontal wooden slices were screens that preclude entrance of flies and mosquitoes (Figure No. 7). The venetian blinds' purpose was preclusion of exposure, where those in the opposite house did not see what occurred inside the house, for the crossed slender wooden plates leave between them small openings for the entrance of air and light (Borkhart, ibid: 102).

Also, it is the opinion of the researcher that all the people of the orient holding fast to the Islamic culture, in the purport of the perspective of privacy of residence, added a new element to architecture, which stemmed from the mentality and creativity of the niche designers. The use of adjoined, confronted and elevated houses in the cities, made it mandatory to find a solution for the house privacy, which experienced exposure, which was not problematic in the case of the nomadic tent, which the researcher observed that matter was treated in two methods: there were no windows in the tents; then by separating the tent from the other with an adequate distance; and even such were close together, or adjacent, each tent's back meets the other 's back, while the door openings remain on the separated sides. Such was also treated in the mud buildings. Therefore, this cultural value in the conduct of building had the credit of finding that beautiful element, which distinguished the Islamic architecture.

The idea of building with stones, secures and walls was transformed by the Persians to Jidda, and then was transformed to Suakin with the Jidda migrants. Al-Ansari included, in his book 'History of Jidda,' a hand-written document of Abu Abduallahi Al-Himiari, saying:" The construction of Jidda was Persian. They were proficient in building its wall, as well as its houses and abodes with maximum proficiency, in which stayed the Persian kings, merchants and new-comers from distant places, and the stopping place for ships sailing from India, Eden, A'izab, Red Sea and others." (Al-Ansari, ibid: 71).

The cohesion of such coral stones does not last long, for they break into bits due to climatic variations between humidity and intense heat, which necessitated constant maintenance and treatments to avoid damage thereof. Such raw rocks were cut at the beginning of building. The experienced builders were aware to arrange placing raw coral blocks flat to a large extent in this manner. The large, porous, rough to touch coral stones are used, and such were extracted from the sea bottom, in addition to the stones excavated from the quarry on the mainland.  Such rough-to-touch was required, for it helped in the cohesion of the final white-washing of the external and internal surfaces of the building. Nonetheless, the builders sculpt the increasing and protruding of such, and level it a little with the remaining level of the wall's surface, by means of the 'shahuta' (Figure No. 6a) (it was similar to a dual sharp edged adze. The process of fixing rocks with plaster mortar was, in itself, used for the walls and arches plastering (Figure No. 6).

However, the coral buildings, in general, did not live long, because of the dissolution of coral rocks, when exposed to humidity and rain. That was also the in Jidda, Suakin and Yanbu' (Borkhart, ibid: 23).  Craftsmen, whether in Jidda or Suakin were, in general, a bunch of builders, , silver jewelers, carpenters, tailors and shoe-makers, and most of them in Jidda were Egyptians (Borkhart, ibid: 50). It was observed that they were few in Mecca, for the people of Mecca were not keen on such crafts. And like the people of Jidda, they were fundamentally reliant, for such crafts, on craftsmen from other countries (Borkhart, ibid: 150-175.) It was also observed that all tailors in Jidda were foreigners, perhaps Indians, or Egyptians. There was no reference to the craftsmen nationalities in Suakin. The researcher believes that they were Turks in the building field specifically in the first days of Suakin, as well as other nationalities, for Suakin was an identical copy of Jidda and the most within reach, not by contrast only, but by the selfsame building technique. The researcher also believes that, during the Khedival dominance over Suakin, the craftsmen active therein were Egyptians. The interest of the people of Jidda, like that of the people of Suakin was solely focused on trading, and nothing else, with the purpose of accumulating a huge wealth, and they were not interested in vocations. They were either sailors or trade by means of the sea. The best evidence of such were the small ships wreckage and structures observed by the explorer Borkhart on the quay (Figure No. 10), due to the lack of those who had the skill and means to repair them (Borkhart, ibid: 22/27/243). This is an evidence formulated by the researcher that the people of Suakin acquire small ships from Jidda, though the latter import such from Suez, Mokha and El-Hudeidah, and perhaps from other regions. Regarding the skilled workers therein, they were not Hijazis, but most of them were Egyptians.

Building in Jidda was sturdy and excelled many Turkish cities (Borkhart, ibid: 23). The same applied to Suakin. However, such buildings, in general, needed constant care and maintenance, due to the nature of those coral stones. In many instances such buildings cracked or collapsed in Jidda or Suakin because of the absence of constant maintenance, which was mostly caused by commercial recession that occasionally inflicted such ports, as a result of mostly political variables. Such led to decreased trade revenue to the people of those cities, which was, in turn, reflected on meager spending on building and the end result was deterioration of their condition.

Jidda, for example, witnessed the deterioration of its condition and buildings during the 'salafis' rule. No new houses were built, and its trade receded, because the Turkish and other pilgrims did not come, and were unwilling to bring their merchandise to Jidda, which could not restore its prestige, except with the arrival of the Turks and resumption of pilgrimage (Borkhart, ibid: 7.)

The same occurred to Mecca prior to being joined to the first Saudi state, when the influx of pilgrims weakened. Hence the buildings did not realize profits to their owners. They failed to pay the cost of the repairs thereof, and many of such collapsed around, and in the center of, Mecca, and a lot of them were devoid of inhabitants (Borkhart, ibid: 102.) That type of Mecca houses, which were originally constructed to meet the need of pilgrim tenants, was established in multiple separate units. With respect to the houses of the wealthy and officials, they were similar to Jidda and Suakin houses. Also, the houses in each of Jidda, Suakin and Mecca, included water tanks inside and outside the city. Water in such cities was not available in the quantity meeting the requirements thereof. Also, scanty rainfall did not allow, contrary to the case in the Sham country, filling the water tanks from the house roofs. Therefore, Jidda and Suakin water came from outside, which rendered them devoid of orchards, or vegetation, only a few date-palms in Jidda. The water tanks, which used to exist in Suakin, collampsed (borkhart, ibid: 103/24/243). It became evident, from the building technique, that there were two techniques for such buildings, and depicted in these two models:

The first technique had two models

  1. The Pasha's house:

The Pasha's house represented the simple type of houses, for its area was square, with a corridor at the entrance, whose door was of two panes, which had carried frontal ornament that disappeared, whereas the filling ornaments on the rear were in place up to 1950. It is observed that the ornaments of the rear of the house doors were mongered and not botanic. The external door had an engraved cover, which was known as the embellished arch. There was a staircase for the reception room upstairs, preceded by a room, wherein was a cabinet, with a door dissimilar to others in the island, for it was made of mahogany, while the others were of teak, like most woodwork in the island. Whereas its engineering design was of an Islamic character, the ornamentation of the engraved doors in Jidda and other Suakin houses, was botanic and of Indonesian origin. There was an only one exit from the corridor, which was a narrow passage, whose right side was the staircase wall, while the left was the latrine, where the passage led a sharp arc ending in a small court, opposite which was the divan, with its large arch decorated with engraved wood slices. The upper room staircase was located in the northern side of the reception room. In the middle of the way to the upper room, places were allocated for the kitchen, for bathing and for the latrine, and its door led to the upper reception room. It was roomy with no skylight, but three windows. It had a door with a shed that led to the roof of the ground storeroom. The room contained open small port shelves above the door.


Khorshid Effendi's house:

It was a ground-floor beautiful house located in the north-eastern part of the island. Perhaps it was the second best house, to that of the Pasha, in the island, due to its distinguished location, as well as its building technique. It had unique features that did not exist in other houses, and such were neither similar in planning (See Figure No. 5), nor in the general appearance, and was more similar to the houses in Da Castro's drawing. It is observed that the divan was large and proficiently ornamented, and of a level higher than the other rooms (Greenlaw 25-27).

The rooms were small and arranged round three sides of the square court, while the reception room by itself took the fourth side. The divan takes an almost cubical shape. It is about six meters (10 slats) long, and the same in width, whereas the elevation was between four and five meters. It extends to be intercepted by a large arch in the middle, which was sharply arced and dividing the beams length (the beam on which the ceiling was crossed, and is known as the "mirig" in the Sudan, and supported by the thick parts of the wall only.) There was, on the eastern side,  a large and deep roshan, un-similar to any in the island (or even in Jidda in that matter) (Figure No. 8) In this edifice there were twelve ventilators near the ceiling, as well as two windows, which were the only source of light in the room, and responsible for darkening and cooling. The walls were divided into groups of hollows and shoulders (wall supporters). The hollows constituted doors and windows, as well as those of shelves and cabinets. Some of such were of doors made of wooden boards vertically connected (connected ornaments {akomi} reduced the weight on the lintel and the ceiling beams (Al-Ja'iz- Jizan). The walls of the reception room were full of engineering and botanic ornaments( of arabesque), which were decorated by pressing them inside the gypsum surface, and even some of such were exposed due to collapse of the house front door ( at the time Greenlaw conducted his survey of the city.) There was one half of the divan floor, which was 60 cm. higher than the other half (i.e., one slat), and separated from it with a wooden railing called bramk. That elevated part was entirely furnished with rugs. There were three sides furnished with benches for sitting, and extending in the same level of the middle roshan (called carwite). Also lower part of the room had a stool on one side, with a door leading inside a rear room that led to the house courtyard. The southern wall had an elevated lighting shaft of three windows, and was ornamented with engraved units. The general appearance and measurements of the house, and the existence of a unique roshan, made the house different in age from the Pasha's house. With respect to the sanitary discharge in the island, it was good, for the bathrooms and latrines were usually connected with pipes through the walls, which conducted discharge into the ground, and then such were distributed to the sea.

The second technique:

This was depicted by all the multi-floor houses, which were constructed in a period subsequent to that of the first type, and was also of two types: the first one was whatever constructed in the periods of Suakin affiliation to Jidda, and had the beauty specifications of Islamic architecture. The second one was whatever constructed in the period of Suakin affiliation transformation to the viceroy in Egypt. Such had different beauty specification and construction techniques than those of the first type. It included almost all the island building allocated for the residence of merchants and the people of Suakin. In such was followed almost the same technique, where almost the same construction elements were shared. However, the diversified uses in arranging and designing those elements, whether inside or outside, were diversified and rich. And building multi-floor was conducted in a method, which the builders experienced and mastered, thud distinguishing the general spirit of Suakin architecture.

The adopted steps in building:

The building owner determined with the builders, on the site, the building horizontal projection, which was governed by the available area, as well as its location from the surrounding area and the buildings therein. Then the projection was drawn and planned directly on the ground. When work on the building foundation started, the workers did not find difficulty in digging to reach the coral rocks, for the soil was still soft, and the foundations start there, and perhaps from the ground surface itself if the site was on directly apparent rocks. In cases of digging, the foundation might not exceed one or two parapets to reach the ground surface (Fawzia A/Qadir, ibid: 122). Upon knowing the house area, and pursuant to drawing the horizontal projection, the ground floor divan and the external corridor leading to that divan, were automatically determined.  Also, here appeared the locations of roshans and windows, with observance of adjacent houses

In the beginning of building, the first course was placed inside the foundations to elevate up to the aprons of roshans and windows, thus the first course in the building wall was formed. That elevation was 1.20 meters (i.e. two slats), where here were placed the horizontal wooden severances or reducers (Figure No. 6), with the consideration of leaving the spaces of doors and windows vacant (Fawzia A/Qadir, ibid: 120.) with the completion of the second course, the building elevation reached the door beams, but the openings of roshans and windows would not be completed, save in the subsequent course. The openings here reached half-way of the roshans, and three quarters of the windows. Here, the door beam was fixed, which was decorated with ornaments and engraved writing, and a hollow was left directly above such for casing the embellished arch, which was usually made of decorated stone for the door cover (Fawzia A/Qadir, ibid: 120.) The third course ended after the upper roshans, coupled with observing that the window beams ended below these roshans, but the existence of a ventilation port directly above the windows, made the seem as an extension to such, especially the end of those ports came in a straight line with the roshans beam near such. At that point, the building would be elevated for three and a half meters (i.e., six slats.) Then building from here elevated upwards for one slat, and reached the ceiling of building up to the middle of the fourth course.  The girders of the floor were placed on the first floor (i.e., ceiling of the ground floor) at a distance of thirty or forty centimeters after the beam of the lower roshans. The girders extended to the center of the wall thickness. Above such, were placed thin wooden sticks (like rattan), whose thickness ranged between two and four centimeters. Such were slightly separated groups, each constituted of three or four of them. Then another group was stowed in a completely opposite direction of the first, so that their crosses formed aids between the girders and beams, above which were spread soft mats. Then such was covered with sandy mud, and plastered with lime up to fifteen centimeters elevation. The fourth course ended at the window sills and roshans of the first floor (Greenlaw, p. 90.)    

Sills were not greatly elevated here from the floor surface, save with 50 centimeters, which was the elevation wherein started the shelves hollows in the room walls, which were usually distributed in a fixed order. In the window-less walls, there were three shelves each, but in case of roshans openings, there were only two shelves, one for each side. Placing the fifth course was exactly similar to, and a repetition of, the second course, with respect to installing windows, roshans and ventilation ports, up to the upper roshan's beam. With the end of such, the building second floor would have been completed.  The beginning of the seventh course was the start of the second floor ceiling, or the floor of the third floor. The same steps of building the fourth course would be done to complete a two-floor house. If building was resumed upwards to complete a third floor, this seventh course would be longer than the preceding ones, as was the case of the fourth course. The reason for such was that the second floor usually contained the basic living rooms in the house, hence requiring roshans higher and larger than others. The ceiling, or house roof, was done in the same method, except that it was thicker and slightly slanting to discharge rain water through the 'sabalouqa,' which was usually made of tree trunks,(perhaps the hollow doum palm.) The roof was a little elevated barrier of balustrade, called 'rampart.' Sometimes, it was high, with openings with shutters, and exactly like a roofless room, called the egress. When a roof was made for a part thereof, it was called the screen. In most cases, the rampart was crowned with dummies, which were as a decoration to the house roof and its end, as well as skillfully affecting the beauty appearance. Perhaps they were added to some corners, or placed above the entrance to doors. The mosques were famous of such, and surrounded the domes. They varied in shape and size, and flourished in the houses after 1876 (after Mumtaz Pasha.) Such barriers were sculpted from coral rocks, ans were covered with plastering.

One of the important elements carefully constructed within the multi-floor house were the stairs, and were located at the hottest part. With the existence of the spiral opening included therein, the hot air escaped upwards, and not stored in the house. Therefore, the stairs, (or stairs group in a house,) assisted in cooling the house and renewing its air.

The stairs started with the directly oriented few steps, and its turn there was the first landing, where stood a central, rectangular and vertical wall, with its length, up to top of building with one meter and a half width, whereas its sickness was one slat. The stairs were usually arranged by placing seven courses (20 cm each) perpendicular with the vertical wall, followed by a landing, from which a stairs turn was started, to the side lesser steps side, which were four, on the landing. The stairs steps were prepared with the one and a half meters long, circular, rough and slender gandal timber, then an edge was implanted into the external stairs wall, whereas the other was implanted into the vertical central wall, thus the required number were well fixed, and they numbered twenty between one floor and the other. After that, they were covered with mortar. Usually, the stairs-well included some windows between one floor and the other. Such were of strong grills. There were also niches for lighting at each stairs landing (Fawzia A/Qadir, ibid: 125). It is also observed that the height of each three-floor building was about twelve meters, or ten courses, the total height thereof ranged between 20 to 21 slats. The measurements were usually taken in slats.

Protection of walls:

After finishing the building process, walls were internally and externally plastered with a rough plaster that stuck to the originally rough coral surface of the wall, which was refined, but used as such, for being refined meant that the plaster layer would not stick to it. With respect to the reducer sticks, they were left without plastering; i.e., in their natural color, which produced a beautiful sight (Borkhart, ibid: 23.) The researcher observed that such sticks seemed liked thin belts with beautiful color, frequenting horizontally in the building wall. Such were brown when new, and gray when getting old. With that positioning, they seemed to preserve the building with regular horizontal intervals.

The researcher believes that the reason for leaving the reducers bare and un-whitewashed was to enable and greatly help, upon pulling out the damaged stones when replaced. Such stones fixed the other stones above them, without being collapsed or moved from their places. About this matter, Borkhart had referred to the Arabs' belief that such wooden board s increased the wall strength (Borkhart, ibid: 23.) The researcher believes that the reducers' element was not a technical error in treating the construction engineering in Jidda and Suakin, as Borkhart believed. It took both the people of Jidda and Suakin a long period of time in practicing and watching building, as well the nature of local materials and environment, and such in the absence of cement, which was not yet known to them, to trust their ability. Also, their placing such sticks was not random, neither regarding the used quality, nor the location of placing such in the building. The horizontal placing of such was calculated, for each horizontal line of such lumber was separated from the other with a big course, i.e., two slats (one meter and twenty centimeters). Two poles of that lumber were placed parallel on the wall exterior and interior edges at the end of each large course, in an 80 cm wide wall at the first floor level. Such wall width decreased at 15 cm in each floor upwards. Therefore, such wall thickness, even in the highest floor (the fourth) was still, in its narrowest width, not less than 45 or 50 centimeters, hence, it could accommodate these reducers inside it (See Figure No. 6). Let it be known that such technique was not intended to directly strengthen the wall, as Borkhart believed and the researcher deemed, but what was intended was the indirect role it played in distributing and absorbing the weight resulting from the building. Placing such lumber in the wall greatly resembles the method of the currently known reinforced concrete "beam" (Al-Jayiz), for it took the place of reinforcement bars in the external edges of the "beam" or the pillar, and not inside it. Thus, it was of the researcher's opinion the builders in Jidda and Suakin were preceding in the deduction the rules of building reinforcement. Borkhart could not comprehend such genius, for the culture wherein he grew up had not yet discovered that.

Regarding Suakin buildings in their first classification, which preceded (Mumtaz Pasha's term), its natives were keen on importing specifically gandal lumber from India, especially for this function, which was proved unaffected by humidity, or curiosity, and still exists in the ruins of the collapsed houses. The researcher observed that its condition was preserved and was not broken up by the action of humidity, as well as having smooth surfaces without wood lice. Such timber was a support for the ceilings and walls of Suakin houses, and the authenticity of such is found in the first ground floor houses, the age of which the researcher estimated as not less than five hundred years, when they started collapsing bin 1930. The reason for that was lack of maintenance, for such houses were abandoned pursuant to establishing the new port by the English in Sheikh Barghouth harbor (current Port Sudan), not for any other reason.

Therefore, it can be said that such a building technique had successfully satisfied the wealthy desire to enlarge and elevate the building in the multi-floor system. However, abandoning the use of such lumber was evident in Mumtaz Pasha's building project. The lumber used in the agency, for example (as mentioned by Port Sudan assistant Commissioner in his report on 20/8/1926) was of the type infested by wood lice, and that numbers thereof were about to collapse at any time. Such houses started to collapse fifty years after their construction, for the problem lied in the type of lumber used for ceilings and floors (Dossier 1/4/12, sheet 4). This was one of several reasons which accelerated the demolition of Suakin houses, as well as the associated technical and administrative reasons.

Religious architecture in Suakin (mosques of Suakin)    

The periods wherein Suakin mosques were constructed have not been determined. The researcher believes that due to Suakin's lack of direct affiliation to the Caliphate in the north of the Islamic World, in its historical sequence, Suakin never gained the direct attention and authority of the Caliphate. The Memlukes Sultan sent from Cairo to the ruler in Gous in 664H (1265) to assign an official to investigate a felony committed by Suakin's prince. Therefore, there was neither authority, nor a direct agent for the Caliphate therein. Also, there was an incident that coincided with Sultan Nasir Al-Din Mohammed's reign, which was Suakin's prince seizure of gifts sent to the Sultan from Yemen by sea. Also, the ruler of Gous was assigned and he sent a disciplinary campaign to the prince in 616H (1318), but he escaped from Suakin. The two incidents proved that there was not, up to that period, a direct presence of the Memlukes Sultan in Suakin, except that such was an affiliate and taxes were levied from it. Due to such a situation the researcher rules out mosques were constructed in the island, and perhaps long after that date. However, modest private mosques might have been built in that period wherein no mosques were constructed. There was an evidence that the island was devoid of mosques, which was the drawing accomplished by the Portuguese De Castro for Suakin island when besieged by the Portuguese navy (Refer to Figure 2) prior to the arrival of Ottomans. But it is probable that there was a mosque in the Edge, for the drawing was solely restricted to the island, and did not depict mosque minarets. And what appeared therein as resembling a minaret, the researcher believes that it was a light-house to guide the ships entering the port, which was erected by the merchants of Suakin to guide their ships, specially that it became of the most famous ports on the eastern coast of the Red Sea.

If we scrutinize the drawing and its standard, we would be persuaded that such a draftsman would not mistake a minaret for a lighthouse in his drawing, for it would have been easier for him to add balconies to the minaret body, and finish it upwards by placing the josag, and the crescent on top. Therefore the researcher believes that mosques were started after that period when the Ottomans had an actual presence inside the island, represented by the Pasha, or Aga, with his soldiers. And it would not have been difficult for the Sultan in Istanbul to reflect his good intentions on his subjects, and demonstrate his concern in his capacity as the Muslims' sponsor, to construct a modest mosque in a place under his direct responsibility. Perhaps this allegation is correct if we know that the Majidi mosque was the oldest in the Edge. When it required maintenance in a subsequent period, the Khedive in Egypt directed the governor of Suakin, Mumtaz Pasha, to repair it, and the signboard on it indicates that. Because it was named "Al-Majidi," the researcher believes that who had ordered its construction was perhaps Sultan Abdumajid the First himself, or in commemoration of him after his death, for it was the custom to name the mosque after its constructor, or if it was presented in his anniversary. However, Borkhart's visit to Suakin in 1814 confirmed the existence of two mosque therein, thus, it was clear that mosques in the island were established between these two dates (Between entrance of Turks into the island in 1531 and 1814). On the other hand, this indicated that the installations of this Arabic-Islamic city were established with its inhabitants' effort, and not with its Sultan's effort that did not have significant presence there. Due to its location in the borders, the residents thereof were concerned about its construction. Perhaps the lack, in Suakin city, of huge monuments and architectural complexes, known in the greater Caliphate capitals, was the strongest evidence of the Islamic Caliphate authority absence from the city. The researcher also observed that four minarets inside the island appear on the photograph, hence raising the new question that must be investigated, for it was known that the island has only two mosques.

Mosques plans in Suakin:

Each of the master Taj Al-Sirr’s mosque and the Shafi'e mosque (Figure No. 9) almost resemble each other in their plans. In both of them was adopted the system of internal nave, surrounded by shades on three sides, whereas the fourth side was the area of prayer niche that contained three porches between which were the pointed arches. Such were lines of arches parallel to the Kibla wall. Each line of such was comprised of five arches, while each of the other three wings contained three arches. All arches relied on the built shoulders. The minaret was located in the south-west. The corner of the north-western wall of the Shafi'i mosque housed a Quranic school. The selfsame shrine occupied that corner in master Taj Al-Sirr's. Each mosque had three entrances, as well as an elevated rostrum at the end of the prayer niche, on the side of the mosque nave, which was allocated for Qura'n recitation and lessons. It was a wooden bench to which the speaker climbed simple steps between the two supports of the central arch of the arches opposite the nave.

With respect to Shinawi Bey’s mosque, it was also constructed on the nave system, but its nave was smaller in size than those of the Shafi'i and master Taj Al-Sirr. It had two porches parallel to the Kibla wall and two on the opposite side. The natives ceiling was supported by the built shoulders. Whereas both the Majidi and Hanafi mosques plans were very simple, for the prayer niche in both was comprised of only two porches, each was carried by built shoulders. Such extended from both corners of the walls, so that the three remaining walls constituted   mosque courtyard. In the south eastern corner thereof was the minaret, and on its north-western corner there was the spiritual retreat. Each of both had entrances, as well as a bench for reciting, suspended between the central arch shoulders, and was shaded by a wooden shade.

It seems that a considerable resemblance existed between mosques in Suakin and Jidda. Perhaps the difference stemmed only from the area occupied by the mosque. A look into the Shafi'i mosque plan in Suakin, as well as that of Jidda proves the researcher's point of view.

Patterns of mosques and shrines:

The minarets' pattern in the Majidi, Hanafi, Shafi'e, Shinawi and Taj Al-Sirr mosques was the Turkish pattern, with disposition in the variance of ghe minaret's height from that of the original, and in Suakin the elevation was up to the first balcony. All minarets were unanimous on the octagonal body. Taj A-Sirr's was the sole mosque with two balconies. It is observed that all balconies were protruded, and based on the simplified chevron ornaments sculpted from stone. The balcony barriers were erected on eight side with wooden poles with slight differences in the design shape, except the balcony of the Majidi mosque, which had a parapet, and surrounded by a carrier (?) from sculpted stone, whereas the upper end of the minaret (Josag) was in the shape of a pen, and such was of a Turkish pattern, with a conical shape and eight sides, except the Majidi minaret, which had its conical shape only, without sides, and had a relatively tall neck on which it stood. All the wooden balconies were supported by wooden supports in its upper edges, and inserted inside the neck of conical object, except the balcony of the Shinawi mosque, which uniquely stood out, for it was of Turkish type, with two balconies of sculpted stone as in the Hanafi mosque. One of each was erected with chevron moulding as in Suakiun, with decreasing protruding downwards.

 It is the researcher's opinion that the origin of minarets pattern, whether in Jidda or Suakin, was perhaps taken from the mosque if 'Amr ibn Al-'Aas in Cairo (Abu Al-Hamd Farghali, ibid: 62/63/64/65/66/67), due to the great resemblance between the two, for it is observed that

 The upper part of the minaret (josag) in 'Amr ibn Al-'Aas mosque, greatly resembled its counterparts in Jidda and Suakin mosques, with respect to the sole wooden balcony erected simplified sculpted chevrons. The josag had a relatively long neck on which it was erected, but its length slightly decreased in Suakin, whereas Suakin kept the octagonal conical shape built with the same building materials of 'Amr ibn Al-'Aas mosque. However, the Shafi'i mosque in Jidda uniquely adopted the Ottoman trace in this josag, for it was coated with another octagonal material, which was perhaps copper or lead. The minaret's body in Jidda and Suakin was separate from 'Amr in Al'Aas mosque in building technique, where it introduced the technique of wooden reducers in minaret bodies in Suakin and Jidda, as in the traditional building technique in the two cities buildings. Despite the fact that the wood cut the minaret's body at equal intervals, but it had, with the shade it left, constituted an un-deep dark-colored thin horizontal line within the body, adding a highly elegant value in the distribution of the body area, and interrupting the routine of its length.

Mosque Imams:

The mosque Imams used to receive fixed salaries for their function from the Egyptian administration. This was depicted in the directive issued to Suakin governor to raise their salaries as follows:

190 pt for the Hanafi mosque's Imam, Sheikh Mohammed Noor Hussein.

190 pt the Majidi mosque's Imam, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, head of obility.

190 pt for the Shafi'e mosque's Imam, Sheikh Mohammed Mahmoud.

100 pt for Mohammed Bek Al-Shinawi mosque's Imam (Antony Sureal, masters research, 1972.)

  1. Hanafi mosque:

It was in the second position after the Majidi mosque, with respect to area and size. It was almost located at the center of the island, facing the southern side of the Principality. It had ornaments engraved on the plastering of the altar. It was also characterized by a stone pulpit. It had a shaded area in the middle wherein there were a lectern and a chair. It was rebuilt in Rajab 1260H (1844), in accordance with the signboard located above the pulpit. Such was as directed by Othman Pasha, when he was the governor of the Red Sea coasts, and director of the entire Sudan. This was executed after he received a directive from the Khedive to reconstruct a ruined mosque in Suakin in that period (Shawqi Al-Jamal, ibid: 139). The Hanafi court was presided over by sheikh A/Qadir Omer Zeid. His Hanafi ancestors, as well as his offspring after him were in charge of the keys to the Hanafi mosque in the island. However, the developing events upon the arrival of the English and the huge armies they were preparing in the island to enter the Sudan, made Suakin completely devoid of inhabitants. The Friday prayer was cancelled in the Shafi'i and Hanafi mosques, as well as the two Eids prayers (Dirar Salih Dirar, ibid: 141.)


  1. The Shafi'e mosque:

It was located in the island to the south of the Hanafi mosque, and it was said that Queen Shajarat Al-Dur had it constructed. It was restored on an order from Khedive Mohammed Ali Pasha in 1252H (1836), and added to it the vacant area to its east, where the new house was located directly to its east. In a subsequent phase, the English built, in the vacant area, stables for their horses when Suakin was devoid of its people. The mosque itself was used as a warehouse for animal cereals, like horses, camels, mules and donkeys (Dirar Salih Dirar, ibid: 148). With respect to size, it came prior to the Hanafi mosque. It was of an oriental type, with an open nave in the middle, and decorated with ornaments more than the Hanafi and Majidi mosques. Around that nave, ceilinged sheds were erected, carried by pointed arches. Its pulpit was built of mud, and was, in addition to the altar, decorated with simple ornaments (Greenlaw, p.88). The mosque included a khalwa for teaching the Qura'n.


3. The Majidi mosque:  

It was one of Suakin's oldest mosque on the Edge, was adjacent to the Shinawi agency, near the island entrance and an unornamented wooden pulpit. Its minaret contained a stone parapet instead of wooden fence, and was characterized with simplicity and modesty. Its building was ordered by the Ottoman Sultan, who was known to the people of the Edge (Greenlaw, p.49). The Husseinis were in charge of its management. The signboard on the altar referred to its building in 1270H (1853) (Dirar Salih Dirar, ibid: 149). However, there was another reference to the oldness of that mosque, dating its history back to the era of the Turkish occupation of Egypt in 1516. Perhaps it might be extremely older, but the researcher does not believe in such, because the pictures, which emerged for Suakin besieged by the Portuguese navy, did not include a drawing for a mosque or a minaret, and it was the period preceding the Ottomans' entrance into Suakin.

Al-Shinawi mosque:

The mosque was located in the commercial center, therefore it external wall was located on the main street, where trading premises were located. Also, the mosque was established on the nave system. It had a beautiful pulpit with wooden fillings. It was of Al-Shinawi's, who constructed it in 1920, and appointed Al-Shareef Ahmed Al-Shinqiti as its Imam. He also endowed half his agency's revenue for the mosque, and the other half to his heirs (Dirar Salih Dirar, ibid: 150.)

Taj Al-Sirr's mosque and shrine:

It was considered the largest of Suakin mosques. It was built on the internal nave system, and had a high dome in the shrine, annexed to the mosque, of master Mohammed Othman Taj Al-Sirr. The external sides of the grave were ornamented with spiral-shaped gypsum decorations, but the successive layers of white paint had concealed most of its features. Its minaret was comprised of two balconies. Adjacent to it was allocated his widow' house, which she built herself. It had been constructed in about the year 1890. The Artigas were its Imams (Dirar Salih Dirar, ibid: 149.)

The shrine of Sheikh Abu Al-Fat'h:

The shrine was dome-shaped. The building was in harmony with the dome and the projection horizontal to a great extent (Greenlaw. p. 91.) It was the shrine of Sheikh Mohyi Al-Din Abu Al-Fotouh Mohammed ibn Abdullah, and was of Yemeni orin. A member of his family had a renowned shrine in Moha in Yemen, who 2as sheikh Al-Hassan Ali ibn Omee Al-Amawi Al-Yemeni (Dirar Salih Dirar, ibid: 151.)

Private mosques in Suakin:

Its singular- in Arabic- is 'zawia,' meaning 'corner,' which was a private prayer-place for daily prayers, save Friday prayer that was supposed to be performed in a mosque or jami'. Its building is square or rectangular, without a minaret, for the prayer-performers were not called, as in the mosque or jami'. It has no pulpit, for the rites associated with Friday prayer are not performed therein. It also contains an altar indicating the Kibla direction. It is usually exposed and surrounded with a wall preceded by a circular protrusion, on the Kibla wall, that is directed towards the Kibla. Its size was the same as the size of ground floor houses, or smaller. It has nothing to attract attention. The private mosques took a simpler shape in most regions of the Sudan, for they did not exceed the circular, square or rectangular shape, which small stones draw its external line (contour.) Most of Suakin's private mosques were comprised of one ceilinged room, to which was added an external frontal shed sometimes.

The Mosawi private mosque: 

It was located on the Edge, outside the island. It had a luxuriant building, whose wall was supported by a support, and it had a ceilinged dome. It was thought that it include three domes. This opinion was consistent, as Greenlaw deemed, with the three domes which appeared in D' Castro's drawing when the Portuguese navy invaded Suakin. The researcher does not agree with this opinion, because that drawing was solely restricted to the island's buildings, and not to the Edge's buildings wherein the private mosque existed.

The Magzoubi private mosque:

It excelled in appearance, which gave it dignity and impressiveness. Though there were three arches lined on the eastern side, there were, in the interior, and parallel to the Kibla, three other large pointed arches. In the rear, there was a room that seemed like a khalwa.(Fawzia A/Qadir, ibid: 86.)

With respect to the artistic ornaments works pertaining to the religious and civil architecture, the details thereof are as follows:

Ornament techniques:

Most houses of the civil and religious architecture were characterized by the techniques stone-sculpting, decorating the plastered walls, as well as mounting with rock crystals, with which the divan walls, or the exterior of the houses of the wealthy, were particularized. The mosques were also characterized, in their decoration, with using the two techniques, such as sculpting, and decorating the internal and external plastering, as well as in the pulpit, altar and entrances. It was evident that each of the civil and religious architecture had its function and components, where various techniques were adopted to handle such, with respect to their design so as to match such a function, (and it is observed that the people of Suakin were not concerned about ornamenting the external walls of their houses, and the discovered of such were limited, p. 190.

Regarding the ornaments used in these Suakin houses, such were of two types, either engineering, or botanic, ornaments. Their application sphere expanded to include gypsum stone and lumber.

The ornaments of Suakin residences were diverse, included a lot of materials and various artistic techniques were adopted in such. Thus, they were harmonious, diversified and rich in detail, in both spheres included in Suakin's architecture, which were the sphere of woodwork and the decoration works.

  1. Woodwork:

Woodwork in Suakin was characterized by craftsmanship, which indicated that such vocational people were highly skilled (and in Jidda also), and proved their high capabilities, not only in execution, but in design, as well as the use of ornaments, like roshans, windows, doors with fillings and venetian blinds works. However, the external door of the Pasha's house, remained the only door among the island doors, which was decorated with sculpted ornament decorations. Such was not repeated in the houses of the wealthy of Suakin people. This is also an evidence on which the researcher, as he thinks, relied in his thinking that such works were from outside Suakin. It seemed that it was from Yafa city, from which each of Jidda, suakin and Zanzibar imported the woodwork they needed. Perhaps, that interprets the significant similarity of woodwork in each of Jidda, Suakin and Zanzibar, and perhaps Yanbu' and Hudeidah. All such cities were grown in similar circumstances.


  1. Roshans or protruding windows:

There was a considerable diversity in the shape and size of the roshan ornamentation in each of Jidda and Suakin, which were all characterized by beauty, even those which contained a few decorations and details. The roshans were of two types (Figure No. 6), the first had a broad shed at the top, or a central pediment like a crown hanging as a cover, and was called 'eaves." The second was the fret, which had a crown and a cornice at the top, and was coverless. Each had three parts, which were the base, sitting and awning. The roshan's fillings were of two types, the upper was the venetian blind to allow passage of air and light, whereas the lower part fillings were compact, and prepared prior to installation in order to be fixed in place between the base and cornice (Figure No. 7.)There were also the liable to open shutters, which were orderly distributed in the upper and lower parts.


Windows were always associated with roshans, making an apparent harmony between the two. This was depicted in the appearance of the same roshan elements on the window. The filling in the base was the same in the window, and such applied to upper ventilators of the roshan. A ribbon arose that connected the shed of window, or windows, with the adjacent roshan, which made a vertical shade fall on the walls.


It was scarce for external surface of the doors, in Suakin, to include ornamented fillings, for such were blank fillings, except Khorshid Effendi's door, which was replete with decorated fillings, as in Jidda doors. Most of such demonstrated the technique of assembling fillings within the horizontal beams, which were contained in the frames. Other doors appeared, with shapes like the protruding oval one, or a sculpture representing a diamond shape. The doors were always of two parts (leaves), even the doors of cupboards and store-rooms. The two leaves were always strengthened, when meeting, by a support, which was an engraved thin wooden slice called 'vane,' and was ornamented with dense beautiful decorations.


The leaf of the external door contained a small door within called the wicket, which allowed entrance into the house whereas the big door remained locked. The small door was crowned with a curved arch above it, with a similar fixed decoration on the other side, for more decoration in the similarity technique.

The doors were tightly secured from within by a wooden bolt, or a slide (Figure No. 30). And nocks were fixed on many doors, which were made of cast copper in minute ornament shapes. The door ended with a wooden girder above it called 'beam,' on which Qura'nic verses, or a supplication and the date of house construction, were engraved. Most of such appeared with modestly produced writing designs.

Wooden arches:

The purpose of the arches built of stone, in the ground floor, was to support the wooden ceiling, as well as the wall erected above it in the upper floor. With respect to the higher floors, the arch was made of wood. Of the purposes of such higher arches, in Suakin's large houses, was to constitute a wooden curved entrance, separating the elevated reception (entrance hall) and the external entrance. Such arch was formed with a number of splendid designs in two techniques, the first of which was like that in the harem quarter entrance in house No. 1. In such was used the technique of cutting forms of wood to constitute the three arches, in which the medium arch was larger than the side arches. With respect to the poles supporting such arches, they extend downward sin thin sizes consistent with the arch total elevation and its width space. The corners at the top of the arch contain dovetailed venetian blinds. The great reception room arch represented that model of arches.

Regarding the second technique of such arches, it was depicted by the reception arch of Shinawi bei new house No. 196. Such combined the technique of collecting pieces to form flat engineering fillings, and the technique of evacuating the arch with protrusions, as well as the technique of venetian blinds openings, which came in the form of a zigzagging band separating the arch and engineering fillings. Such arch was erected on slender conical poles (refer to Figure No. 37.)

With respect to the Principality building,, it was the sole demonstrator of a third type of arches. Such type combined the technique of cut shapes and the minute conical shapes, which were constituted of small cut wooden slices, with curved edges in a manner computing the vacuum with the slice body, where two shapes were formed upon fixing and assembling such slices. The vacuum in between formed a shape as well as that of the wooden slice itself. Regarding the conical shapes, such were pieces of small conical poles, which were combined by implanting them together, thus constituting shapes from the objects and the in between vacuum. The total shape was constituted of three arches, in which the central arch occupied an area larger than the other equal two. The arch was erected on sculpted poles with base heads, whose elevation from the ground to the head was equal to the elevation of the remainder of arch. This type was called the chopped. The Principality was the sole demonstrator of this model.

Tracery/venetian blind/sash:

The nomenclatures give the same meaning, with the purpose of passing air into the interior, as well as blocking whatever was within. It was very suitable to such weather, in addition to the splendid appearance of venetian blinds, especially which was known as the 'malawi' of which Cairo was famous. Also, Suakin and Jidda were characterized with this teethed, grilled octagonal type, inside rectangular shapes, within a lager design of fillings. Sometimes it appeared in a large size covering the window, the roshan's upper part, in the rear of houses, the stairs landings (36) and Shinawi bei (136.)

The wooden zigzagging wavy ornaments (known as the balcony) in the recently constructed Egyptian pattern houses. Whereas the lamp-holder was an engraved ornament that resembled the engraved table legs. It was usually fixed in the arch center by implanting in the building, without using nails. There was a hook at each side called 'the janis' for hanging the lamp.

It is observed that the iron decorations were scarce in Suakin, while it was common in Egypt. Such was known as the malleable, or mollified, iron as hooks for the roshan windows, doors and windows (Figure No. 21:  1,2 & 3). That included the shelf door joints. It also included making copper wire windows (soft copper), and such were bent to form the ornaments of grilled gridirons, at the top of door entrances. The iron decorations also included metal lamps and door knocks. Though they were scarce in Suakin, but they were used a lot in Jidda, in addition to decoration nails (kawkab nails), which were used in door for such a purpose.

Ornamental decoration works:

The decoration works in civil architecture included many important parts of the building, such as entrances, reception room walls and arches, edged and poles. To achieve that the technique of sculpting stone, as well as plastering decoration and implanting crystal stones, were used, and they were as follows:

Stone sculpting (embellished arch):

The door entrances in Suakin were characterized by a cover of sculpted stone, which was called "embellished arch." It was cut from coral stones with extreme care. When such were combined and stuck in the shape of pointed arch, the embellished arch was completed. It carried its weight and was incapable, from construction perspective, of adding any sturdiness or strength to the wall. Its sole purpose was adding an elegant touch to the house entrance. It included one patch of venetian blinds works. The largest arch in elevation and width in Suakin was the arch of the main entrance to Al- Shinawi agency (six meters); whereas the most beautiful arch was that preserved and installed in front of the Principality internal courtyard. Stove sculpted decorations were added to arches located in entrance edifices, and such were installed in specific place therein, with the purpose of adding a new element to enhance the design elegance, with whatever it carried of protruding and low decorations, and the shades falling in between, increasing the projection of such elements. Most of its ornaments were in the form of circular, star-shaped disks with diversified techniques. Regarding the barriers, parapets or dummies (Figure No. 46), those were elements added to the roofs of civil and religious buildings, and were repeated shapes of sculpted stone interspersed with openings. When repeated, such depict beautiful shapes, rendering the end of horizontal line of the building upper roof interesting, dynamic, mild and- at the same time- did not finally end interrupted by the fixed building mass.


Gypsum decorations (tangle) and crystal stones:

Most Suakin houses were decorated, on the interior only, by coating the plastering of decorated gypsum, and known as the tangle, and found in various places of the building. Such ornaments were divided into two types: the engineering and botanical. They relied on the technique of Islamic art, despite the borrowing that appeared on some. It was implemented through gridirons with grilled crossings. Hence, they all produce regular engineering shapes, where the plastering was engraved to the required depth. These ornament designs relied on the flexible diving bell, which was capable of zigzagging, succession and overlapping in its climbing and progressive growth. The diving bells were integrated by adding leaves and flowers to them. Such ornaments were designed with the system of the computed accurate balance between the objects and surrounding vacuums. There were very limited models in which was small size rock crystals for setting the plastering. Also, the colored drawings were not attempted, save by very few, and such were closer to folklore than Islamic art.

Islamic architecture ornaments and techniques thereof:

Not much attention was given to decorating mosques, private mosques and schools in Suakin city, hence they carried the impression of sturdiness and austerity. And whatever ornaments found there were extremely modest.

  • The Hanafi mosque was closer to the shape of the first mosque at the outset of Islam, and was characterized by the minaret only, whereas the decorations within were restricted to the stone pulpit and altar.
  • The Majidi mosque seemed like the old ground floor houses, but for the balcony of its octagonal minaret, with a stone barrier. Its three entrances did not contain arches, but included heaven dolls above the entrances.
  • The Shafi'i mosque's architecture was characterized by simplicity, and despite such it included all the mosque components, such as the rectangular prayer niche of three lines of arches, which were supported by poles and a broad nave. That was surrounded by halls with three-side arches supported by the poles. The last element was an octagonal minaret, whose elevation was proportionate to its body width and the mosque length, with a simple balcony and chevrons. There were large arches therein, and its minaret resembled that of the Hanafi mosque, but had a body more elegant than the Hanafi minaret.
  • Shinawi Bey's mosque differed from other mosques in its general plan. It included the basic elements of the mosque (prayer niche, kibla and pulpit), except the wings, which were not included therein. Also, it was the sole demonstrator of its closed nave system within the mosque. It was characterized by its several windows, whereas its entrances did not include arches, as in the Shafi'i mosque, and restricted to heaven dummies. However, the most beautiful architectural element was its wooden pulpit, which was peerless in the other mosques of Suakin.
  • Mohammed Othman Taj Al-Sirr's mosque was closer to the Shafi'i, with respect of its planning. It also included all the mosque elements, such as the prayer niche, pulpit, altar and wings with arches carried by supports. The most beautiful element that characterized the mosque was its octagonal minaret with two balconies. It was also the only mosque in Suakin that included its owner's grave (shrine), which was adjoined to the mosque corner. The gypsum decorations works covered its external walls, as well as the heave dummies.

The private mosques:

The private mosques were not characterized by architectural or ornamental advantages. Its doors and windows, as in some  houses, were with fillings devoid of engraving. Being in the center of houses, they did not attract attention. They resembled, in their projections, the first ground floor houses in Suakin. They also had separate groups of heaven dummies.


Findings and recommendations:

First: Findings

1. Though the Sudan has joined the Arabic culture and Islamic religion, and became part thereof, the material elements of such a civilization, depicted in the shape of architecture, were not materialized, save in the buildings of Suakin city, and did not by-pass to the rest of the Sudan.

2. Suakin buildings were characterized by all the building standards of Islamic architecture, in both its civil and religious parts.

3. The minor arts also appeared, complementing the city requirements of carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors and other vocations.

4. Suakin buildings flourished in some periods, and receded in others, due to commerce flourishing or recession.

5. The super powers' domination of the Red Sea passage deprived the merchants, of cities existing on both coasts, from most of the trading revenue, and monopolized from them the transportation and re-exportation thereof, which negatively affected life in cities. Such was one of the most important reasons finally leading to the evacuation of Suakin city. The people thereof migrated to the new port:  Port Sudan, and the rest of the cities of the Sudan.


Second: Recommendations:

  1. Being concerned that the educational and cultural process focus on the roots of the heritage on which the Sudanese nation emerged.
  2. Endeavoring to revive the external shape of Suakin city, and such by revitalizing it as a tourist city, as well as a Red Sea resort.
  3. Introducing the concept of Islamic architecture in the faculties of architecture and internal design.
  4. Creating incentives for the consultative architectural corporations, which reflect in their activities the feature of Islamic architecture.


References and Sources:


-Abu Al-Hamd Mahmoud Farghali, 1948, Brief Guide to the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities in Cairo, the Egyptian-Lebanese House, 3rd edition, 1991- 1993.

- Abu Salih Al-Alfi, The Islamic Art: Origins, Philosophy and Schools, Cairo, Dar Al=Ma'arif, 3rd edition.

-John Louis Borkhart, 1992, Journeys in the Arabian Peninsula, 1st edition, A/aziz ibn Salih Al-Halabi, Al-Risala Foundation, Beirut.

-A/Godous Al-Ansari, 1982, Encyclopedia of the History of Jidda, vol. 1, Dar Misr for Printing, Cairo.

- Fareed Shafi'I, 1970, Islamic Architecture in Egypt,  …..   Publishing House, Cairo.

-Dirar Salih Dirar, 1997,  Arab Tribes Migration to the Nile Basin, Egypt and Sudan, Nubia Library, 1st edition, Riyadh.

- Khalid Mohammed Mustafa, 1997, Islamic Cities Planning and Architecture, the Nation's Book, a monthly series, Ministry of Endowments, Doha.


Post-graduate Theses:


  • Antony Sureal. 1972, Effort of Culture in the Sudan, an MA research, University of Cairo.
  • Jean Pierre Greenlaw, 1988, The Coral stone Buildings in Suakin, translated by Fawzia A/Qadirn Salih, an MA thesis in translation, University of Khartoum.


Field Interviews:  

30. Dr. Ba'shar, 1998, Ba'shar's family, university professor, Port Sudan.

31. Uncle Hussein, 1998, Suakin island guard, Suakin.

The Coral Building of Suakin, 3- Jean Peirre Greenlaw, 1967, Boston: Orjel Press, London.


Annexes of Photographs and Figures




Fig No.2

The Portuguese fleet during besieging Suakin in 1510



Fig No.1

The Island is crowded with houses





Fig No. 3.
This island's houses as Greenlaw depicted in this miniature

The figure shows the earth-filling leading directly to the edge, then to Shinawi's agency, and the Majidi mosque near it.

The harmony of the island's buildings shape and appearance is clearly demonstrated. 



(figure No.4)
The island's north-side photograph from, with the Customs, Police and Principality buildings in the rear.

An acquisition of Dram University


The Principality as it seemed in 1934. In its farther side appears the Telegraph building, and to its nearest side, the Center building


(Fig No.5)

Houses of the first periods like this house of Khorshid Pasha


(Fig No.6)

The tools used in building



(Fig No. 6 b)

The Suakin house building technique resembling that of Jeddah and Turkey, where the wall width was not less than 80 cm. It was solid like a stone mass, stuck together by the lime mortar and the reducers made of the circular gandal, not from the ordinary square wood for it did not resist lice, or humidity like the gandal





(Fig No.7)

Types of the protruded windows and shapes of diverse chevron fillings with openings and the solid others.






  1. The upper in the principality, the other in Mohammed Bey Ahmed's house. House no 22.
  2. Connected roshan in Shinaw Bey's house no 16, each contains five bayekhs. It is the type with no upper protruding shed (eaves). There is a similar one in Jeddah.
  3. Bandron from a protruded window in Jeddah , Khorshid Effendi's house.

Roshan with a fret in Kursheid's house in Jeddah. There is a similar one in Jeddah.


(Figure no 8)

The distinguished Roshan in Khorsheid Pasha's house.


                    (Figure no 9)                           

The pattern and plan of master Taj Al-Sirr's Mosque. Similar to the Shafi'i mosque below



The Shafi'i mosque, with its plan below





Shinawi Bey's mosque with its plan below, where its narrow court-yard is shown





The Hanafi & Majidi mosques were the smallest, and their plans were very simple.

 The Majidi mosque appears here as a house and behind it stood the huge Shinawi agency. (An acquisition of Dram University)


The dock and workshop of ships and Suakin Skiffs



Acquisition of Dram University             house no 16

Some Suakin buildings built as per Jeddah and Istanbul system prior to its affiliation to the Khedive in Egypt








The researcher's field journey.        Kabli street in Jedda and its three buildings appear (with signs)


The three houses of the Kabli family in old Jeddah, and even th2e street in between is called kabli street. The houses are still inhabited.



Picture no (1) Houses traits in Suakin.                           Shaikh Tajalsir shrine



Types of the lighting-lamp holders.                 Types of Gypsum decorated ornaments

   Models of reception rooms ornaments in Suakin houses, wherein appeared ornament designs, with harmonious distribution on walls, and in between were openings of ports, shelves and small decorative arches. A large arch also appears on the picture. It seems, from its general appearance and the ornament, that it was the Pasha's house.              

Types of internal and external lighting lamps


Models of doors from old Jeddah, whereon appear

diverse arabesque ornaments.                                                   Types of Jeddah doors

The vane was the ornament in a wicket of door in Jeddah.

The unique door of the entrance to Kurshid Beys' house


Wooden arch in the Principality             The Shinawi mosque pulpit



A wooden arch at the entrance of                               A door from Suakin model

Shinawi's reception room





Abu Al-Futouh's dome in Suakin



Embellished arch up the doors

Stone decoration items placed within the embellished arch.


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