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THE MOSQUE OF AMR IBN AL-AAS
The mosque of Amr Ibn al-Aas, built in 642 (21 H) and said to be build on the site of Amr Ibn el-As's tent at Fustat, is the oldest existing mosque, not just in Cairo, but the entire African Continent. Located north of the Roman Fortress of Babylon, It is actually on the edge of Fustat, the temporary city founded by Amr, and was an Islamic learning center long before El-Azhar Mosque. It could hold up to 5,000 students. The mosque incorporates elements of Greek and Roman buildings, and has 150 white marble columns and three minarets. Simple in design, its present plan consists of an open sahn (court) surrounded by four riwaqs, the largest being the Qiblah riwaq. There are a number of wooden plaques bearing Byzantine carvings of leaves, and a partially enclosed column is believed to have been miraculously transported from Mecca on the orders of Mohammed himself. There are many other ancient legions related to the Mosque. It's current form is derived primarily from a renovation in 1798 by Murad Bey.

THE IBN TULUN MOSQUE
Build by Ahmed Ibn Tulun in 879 (265 H), the Ibn Tulun Mosque in the Sayyedah Zeinab district has an atmosphere of tranquility unlike that of any other mosque in the city. Ahmed Ibn Tulun was sent to govern Cairo by the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad, which explains the Mesopotamian influence. It is the oldest original mosque and the largest in Egypt. It incorporates a number of unique features, such as the external spiral staircase of the unusual minaret (the only one of it's type in Egypt) which is similar to the famous Samarra Mosque in Mesopotamia. It's design is simple, consisting of an open sahn with an ablution fountain in the center, surrounded by four riwaqs, the largest being the Qiblah riwaq. (The Qiblah side is the side closest to Mecca.) There are five naves on the Qiblah side, and two on the remaining sides The building style follows that of the Abbasid type, characterized by pilasters on which slightly pointed arches are applied, and which have a slight inward curve at the bottom. The rectangular building surrounding the sahn has a rampart walk. and the high walled additions (Ziyyadahs) are found on the south, west and north. Within the prayer niche, or mihrab, constructed of marble and gilded mosaic and bordered by four columns with leaf like crowns, is a wonderful pulpit, or minbar of 13th (Mameluke) century origin. Many of the 13th century restorations were carried out by Sultan Lajin, who at one point took refuge in the mosque and vowed to restore. The stone carvings on the interior walls are elegant and the designs of the rondels {128 latticed windows made of gypsum} are distinct and unusual. Running around the interior of the four arcades is are original Koranic inscriptions carved in sycamore. It was used as a military hospital by Ibrahim Pasha during the 19th century and was later used as a salt warehouse and beggar's prison prior to it's restoration in 1918.

THE AL-AZHAR MOSQUE
The Al-Azhar Mosque (the most blooming), established in 972 (361 H) in a porticoed style shortly after the founding of Cairo itself, was originally designed by the Fatimid general Jawhar El-Sequili (Gawhara Qunqubay, Gawhar al-Sakkaly) and built on the orders of Caliph Muezz Li-Din Allah. Located in the center of an area teaming with the most beautiful Islamic monuments from the 10th century, it was called "Al-Azhar after Fatama al-Zahraa, daughter of the Prophet Mohamed (Peace and Prayers Be Upon Him). It imitated both the Amr Ibn El-As and Ibn Tulun mosques. The first Fatimid monument in Egypt, the Azhar was at once a meeting place for Shi'a students and though the centuries, it has remained a focal point of the famous university which has grown up around it . This is the oldest university in the world, where the first lecture was delivered in 975 AD. Today the university built around the Mosque is the most prestigious of Muslim schools, and it's students are highly esteemed for their traditional training.

While ten thousand students once studied here, today the university classes are conducted in adjacent buildings and the Mosque is reserved for prayer. In addition to the religious studies, modern schools of medicine, science and foreign languages have also been added.

Architecturally, this mosque is a palimpsest of all styles and influences that have passed through Egypt, with a large part of it having been renovated by Abdarrahman Khesheda. There are five very fine minarets with small balconies and intricately carved columns. It has six entrances, with the main entrance being the 18th Century Bab el-Muzayini (barber's gate), where students were once shaved. This gate leads into a small courtyard and then into the Aqbaughawiya Medersa to the left, which was built in 1340 and serves as a library. On the right is the Taybarsiya Medersa built in 1310 which has a very fine mihrab. The Qaitbay Entrance was built in 1469 and has a minaret built atop. Inside is a large courtyard of 275 by 112 feet which is surrounded with porticos supported by over three hundred marble columns of ancient origin. To the east is the prayer hall which is larger then the courtyard and has several rows of columns. The Kufic inscription on the interior of the mihrab is original, though the mihrab has been modified several times, and behind is a hall added in 1753 by Abd el-Rahman Katkhuda. At the northern end is the tomb medersa of Jawhar El-Sequili.

The Sultan Hassan Mosque
The Sultan Hassan Mosque and madrasa (School) is considered stylistically the most compact and unified of all Cairo monuments. The building was constructed for Sultan Hassan bin Mohammad bin Qala'oun in 1256 AD as a mosque and religious school for all sects. It was designed so that each of the four main Sunni sects (orthodox Muslim, or Sunni rites, consisting of Shafite, Malikite, Hanefte and Hanbalite) has its own school while sharing the mosque. The cornices, the entrance, and the monumental staircase are particularly noteworthy.

The madrasa was originally introduced to Egypt by Saladin to suppress non-orthodox Muslim sects. There is a difference in congregational as opposed to Madrasa style Mosques such as the Sultan Hassan. While some congregational Mosques have been used as schools, those designed for that purpose generally have smaller courtyards (Sahn) and the buildings are more vertical, allowing for classrooms space.

Many consider the Sultan Hassan Mosque to be the most outstanding Islamic monument in Egypt. It is of true Bahri Mameluke origin, built of stone, and while it is entirely different in design, shares a like boldness to the Ibn Tulun Mosque. There is no architectural indulgence here, but rather self confidence in it's clarity of execution and restraint. In allowing separate schools for the four Sunni rites, the Sultan Hassan is based on a classical cruciform plan, meaning that the Sahn opens from each of its sides into a separate liwan, which is an enormous vaulted hall, each serving one of the rites. While the design of liwans predates Mohammed (Peace and Prayers Be Upon Him), it was the Mameluke who arranged them in the Cruciform manner, and as in the Sultan Hassan Mosque, advanced this architecture with the addition of a domed Mausolea. However, this Mausolea is empty, for Sultan Hassan died several years prior to its completion.

Structurally from the outside, the Mosque is very impressive, holding its own with its impressive cornice and the protruding verticals of its facade, even though it stands in the shadows of the massive Citadel. As one enters the Mosque from Sharia el Qalaa, there is an impression of height, especially from the towering doors decorated in a Marmeluke fashion. Even during the Marmeluke error in Cairo, building space was at a premium. Thus the outer walls are somewhat askew, in order to fit the available lot, but these designers had a wonderful way of creating the impression of uniform cubistic effect inside regardless.

 

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