The northern suburb of Aleppo “Outside al-Nasr Gate” started to flourish in the late Mamluk period (9th – early 10th century AH / 15th – early 16th century AD) and continued to do so in the first centuries of Ottoman rule (from the 10th century AH / 16th century AD onwards). Even in late Mamluk times, its western part, called al-Judayda (“the little new one”), was already home to the city’s Christian population and their churches; some of these churches witnessed substantial (re-)construction activities during the second half of the 9th century AH / 15th century AD. Important infrastructure projects were realised in the last decades of Mamluk rule, notably the water pipe that connected the northern suburb to Aleppo’s water supply (Qanat Halab). Along the new water pipe, a wave of construction activities involving mosques and public fountains could be observed from around 895 AH / 1490 onwards.
Those developments upgraded this part of town and laid the ground for the single most important intervention into its urban infrastructure in the 11th century AH / 17th century AD: the endowment (waqf) of Ibshir Mustafa Pasha, who was governor of Aleppo in 1062 AH / 1652 AD. His waqf, registered in 1063 AH / 1653 AD, included the restoration of a caravanserai in the village of Khan Tuman and the construction of the monumental complex in Aleppo. The waqf’s revenues were intended to support the two holy cities Mecca and Medina, with important payments for several religious services to a number of individuals especially in Medina. As the endowment’s inspector (nazir), the Shaykh al-Islam, the empire’s highest-ranking religious scholar, received an important share as well.
Ibshir Mustafa Pasha’s development in Aleppo, a complex including a khan (commercial inner-town inn), khan-like structures with work spaces (here named qaysariyya), shops, etc., cemented the role of the northern suburb as Aleppo’s second economic centre and offered numerous opportunities for the textile industry, particularly the establishment of looms in the qaysariyyas. Although consisting of the components of a traditional Ottoman külliye (cf. Khusrawiyya), the layout of the interior – here as a compact block integrating the mosque and a coffeehouse – is fundamentally different.
In addition, the waqf’s monumental and sumptuous coffeehouse offered, together with the bathhouse (hammam) of Bahram Pasha’s waqf on the opposite side of the alley, a ‘public’ space par excellence for this part of the town shared by Christian and Muslim inhabitants alike. Several amusements, such as music performances, shadow play (karagöz), and storytellers, entertained the coffeehouse’s customers. A 1795 inventory lists benches and about 120 stools, as well as a number of braziers, carpets, lanterns, and other equipment, that were available for its numerous customers. The small number of coffee cups (only 30) indicates that cups were passed from one customer to the other. Coffee as a beverage was probably introduced in Syria and the Levant (Bilad al-Sham) around 935 AH / 1530 AD; more than a century later, it was apparently widely consumed in Aleppo.