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Mosque of Ibn Tulun Cairo

This mosque is one of the oldest and largest mosques in Cairo. It was built at the end of the 9th century, even before Cairo itself officially appeared. Inside, the Ibn-Tulun mosque strongly resembles the Nasir mosque in the Citadel.

This mosque was built by Ahmed ibn Tulun where, according to legend, Abraham was going to sacrifice his son.

The mosque looks like a rectangular huge fortress, which is surrounded by a wall with battlements. This wall surrounds a square courtyard. You can get into it through a wooden gate.

The courtyard of the mosque is bordered by arched galleries on pillars. In the center there is a fountain for ablution. In the 13th century, a special dome was erected above it. A saying from the Koran is written on the fountain about the importance of bathing before all prayers. 

In the south, the courtyard gradually turns into a prayer hall. There are 6 prayer niches in the mosque – mihrabs. The most prominent of these is the niche sponsored by the guest of Caliph al-Afdal Shahinshah. This mihrab is richly decorated with glass and inscriptions telling about the biography of the caliph.

In the center of the sanctuary of the mosque is a wooden bench, standing on columns of marble – dikka. It is used for singing, quoting the Quran and invoking prayer.

The minaret of the mosque is slightly deviated from the axis of the main niche and is located north of the fence. This is a rather unusual construction of stone, as its staircase is located outside. The architecture of the building dates back to the 13th century. A bridge with horseshoe-shaped Andalusian arches, a crown with a corrugated helmet, double arches and stepped ledges – all this is characteristic of this building. 

The mosque of Ibn-Tulun has survived to this day in almost inviolable form, although the centuries that have swept over it have nevertheless left their imprints on it. Already from the far narrow streets leading to the mosque, you can see its tall minaret, built at the end of the XIII century. It is adjacent to the mosque building on the west side and is unlike any of the other Cairo minarets. The mosque is surrounded by a mighty wall with battlements. The only thing that reminds the viewer that in front of him is not a fortress, but a mosque, is a frieze encircling the wall from lancet windows and arches.

The spacious courtyard of the Ibn-Tulun mosque, measuring 92–92 m, is surrounded on three sides by arcades with high lancet arches, resting on square columns. The arches are covered with strict geometric patterns. There are several dozen such arches, and not one ornament repeats another. In the center of the courtyard there is a bathing fountain, over which a dome was built in 1296. It rests on an octagonal drum, standing on a square base.

The Ibn-Tulun mosque is built of burnt brick and coated with lime. This method of construction is not characteristic of Egyptian buildings, it was brought from Baghdad. The appearance of the mosque is strict and concise. Deprived of any pretentiousness, it is as if created for contemplation and reflection. Nothing distracts a person here from meditation and prayer. It is likely that the nameless architect who built the mosque sought this particular atmosphere of peace so that a person who comes to the mosque for some time leaves behind the threshold passions raging around.

The walls of the mosque and all architectural details – arches, capitals of columns, spaces between windows, cornices – are covered with a stylized floral pattern – large, relief. The traditions of Muslim art, as you know, limit the ability to portray living beings. As a result, the role of ornament has sharply increased. It adorns carpets, fabrics, ceramics, wood and metal products, medieval manuscripts, but its significance in Muslim architecture is especially great – the ornament gives Islamic buildings amazing elegance and beauty.

The mihrab of the mosque, one of the most ancient elements of the building, built even under Ibn-Tulun, was repeatedly remade in subsequent years. It is decorated with four columns with beautiful carved capitals. They, apparently, were taken from some Byzantine basilica of the time of Emperor Justinian.

For a long time, the Ibn-Tulun mosque served as a transit point for pilgrims traveling from the countries of West Africa to the holy places of Islam – to Mecca, Jerusalem and Baghdad. Here they rested and prayed before the further journey. Next to the mosque he built, the Sultan Ibn-Tulun set up a square where he played polo, or balls. Several gates are brought to this square: the Gate of the Noble, the Gate of the Harem. Only Ibn-Tulun himself had the right to pass through the central arch. During the parades and ceremonies, an army of Ibn-Tulun, numbering about 30 thousand people, passed through the neighboring arch.

Among more than five hundred Cairo mosques, the Ibn-Tulun mosque stands out for its antiquity and high artistic merit. The strict, restrained beauty of the mosque makes it one of the most outstanding works of medieval Arab architecture.

1 – The mosque of Ibn Tulun was built by Ahmad Ibn Tulun – the governor of the Abbasids in Egypt.

2 – The mosque is located in the northeast of Fustat (the former predecessor city of Cairo, now one of its districts) on the Jabal Yashkur hill.

3 – Today it is the oldest mosque in Egypt, which has retained its original appearance.

4 – The construction of the mosque was conducted in the years 876-979. In later centuries, serious repairs were carried out at the Fatimid Caliph Mustansir-billiha in 1077 and the Mameluk Sultan Lachin in 1296-1297.