Complete Damascus mahmal with the tughra of Sultan ‘Abdulhamid II on Collections Sphere from
The mahmal was a ceremonial palanquin that represented the authority of the Sultan over the Holy Places. It was carried by a camel – specially chosen for the purpose for its appearance and strength. The Mamluk sultan Baybars (r 1260 – 1277) is reported to be the first to have sent a mahmal with the caravan of pilgrims from Cairo, and the custom was continued under Ottoman rule and almost without interruption until the early 20th century. Following the Ottoman conquest of Egypt, a second mahmal – also representing the Ottoman sultan – left Damascus with the caravan of Syrian and Turkish pilgrims. The Egyptian and Syrian mahmals were occasionally joined by a third mahmal from the Yemen.
This sitr (‘cover’) for the mahmal is one of seven (three Syrian and four Egyptian) mahmals in the Khalili Collection. The earliest is a Syrian mahmal cover in the name of Sultan Muhammad (Mehmet) IV, dated AH 1076 (AD 1656–7), while the latest, an Egyptian mahmal, is in the names of the Ottoman sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid (‘Abdulhamid) II and the Egyptian khedive ‘Abbas Hilmi II, and bears two dates, 1316 and 1318 AH (1898–9 and 1900–01 AD).
This example comprises the sitr itself – a tent-like cover with a pyramidal roof and an almost-square base with a slit opening at the front, four corner finials and four small corner banners.