Welcome to Egypt, the land of a thousand minarets where no two mosques look exactly the same. Here you’ll find mosques over 1,000 years old next to mosques built just yesterday. Likewise, you’ll find some architecturally inspiring mosques, while others are just simple places of worship. However, to really take in the beauty of the mosques in Egypt, Cairo is the place to see some of the most striking examples of mosques in the country. Here are a few to add to your bucket list:
Between 1365 and 1363, Sultan Hassan built the mosque that bears his name. Historians say it’s the finest piece of early Mamluk architecture in Cairo. At 7,906 square meters, it’s also the largest mosque ever built. It location was vital because of its location near the fortress of Salah El Din. It also includes schools from four Sunni doctrines – Shafi’i, Hanbali, Hanafi, and Maliki. Additionally, it once housed over 400 students. You may find it of special interest that historians believe workers built the mosque using stones from the pyramids of Giza.
Al Azhar is not only the most important of all the mosques of Egypt, but historians also see it as one of the most important centers of Islamic theology and learning in the world. The Fatimid built it in 970 A.D. as both a mosque and a university for the teachings of Islam. (The Fatamids are the same people who built the city of Cairo.) As a result, Al Azhar University is the oldest degree-issuing school in all of Egypt. Nonetheless, tourists visit for its five minarets and white marble courtyard.
Sitting right next to the Sultan Hassan mosque, and just as striking in size, is the Al Rifai mosque. Built between 1869 and 1912, its wasn’t meant to rival it’s neighbor, however; rather, it was the intentions of the architects for the Sultan Hussein mosque not to dwarf it.
All the same, Khoshiar Hanem, the mother of Ishma’il Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt from 1863 to 1879, commissioned Al Rifai’s construction. She had it built to house the tombs of the royal family and also as a place of worship. Along with the royal family, the Al Rifai mosque also hosts the tombs of the medieval Islamic saint, Sheikh Al Rifai and the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Not only is the Ibn Tulun the oldest mosque in Egypt in its original form, but also the largest. The Iraqi Abbasid governor to Egypt, Ahmed Ibn Tulun built the mosque. Some say it was his homesickness for Iraq that inspired its building.
Of special note is the mosques pointed arch. Historians say it was world’s first such arch, the Egyptians having built it 200 years before Europe started using Gothic arches in their own buildings.
Perhaps one of the most awesome features of this mosque, however, is its minaret. It’s one of the also has very few minarets in the world where the staircase is on the outside. Be sure to climb it for spectacular views of the city.
Located in the Cairo Citadel, not only is this Cairo mosque a “must see”, but also a “can’t miss” as it takes over the cities eastern skyline. It really is a stunning site, but especially at night when it’s all lit up.
It was built between 1830 and 1848 by the Khedive of Egypt, Mohammed Ali Pasha. The mosque features a brass clock tower, a gift from the French king Louis Philippe. In return, Mohammad Ali gave the king the obelisk of Luxor which you can still find in Paris at the Place de la Concorde.
Al Zaher Barquq
Also known as the Sultan Barquq mosque, the mosque-madrassa of Al Zaher Barquq is a medieval religious complex that was built between 1384 and 1386. It is located on one of the oldest streets in Cairo – Moez Street. It is also one of the first mosques that the first Circassia sultan of Egypt, Al Zaher Barquq, built during the Circassia dynasty. Besides a mosque and a madrassa, Al Zaher Barquq also contains a mausoleum and a building used for a Sufi spiritual retreat known as a khanqah.
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