Cairo is a veritable goldmine of rich Islamic history and architecture. The city has had literally thousands of Islamic monuments erected over the centuries, many of which have stood the test of time and remain in good condition today. We’ve put together a list of five breathtaking Islamic monuments that you should definitely take the time to visit.
The Ibn Tulun Mosque
The oldest standing mosque in its original form, is the mosque of Ahmad Ibn Tulun situated in the heart of Cairo. Ibn Tulun was the founder of the Tulunid Dynasty that ruled over Egypt and Syria in the 9th Century. When designing the mosque, Ibn Tulun took inspiration from the great mosque of Samarra. The beautiful structure is best known for its flawless stucco decoration and its marvelous minaret that continues to baffle architects to this day. The mosque is located in the Sayyidah Zaynab district of Old Cairo. While you are in the area, stop by the Gayer Anderson Museum next door to enjoy the magnificent art collections on display as well as the breathtaking architecture which is considered among the best-preserved examples of Islamic domestic architecture in Cairo.
Al-Aqmar mosque is located in the epicenter of the Fatamid Caliphate, the historic Al Moez Street. This beautiful monument was built by Fatimid Vizier Ma’mun al-Bata’ihi and is considered an architectural hallmark due to its introduction of the decorated stone façade. The façade, which has come to be considered a defining feature of Fatimid architecture, is exquisitely decorated with intricate carvings, including a unique medallion carving above the main entrance. Al-Aqmar’s façade has since served as inspiration for several other buildings, such as the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo.
The Complex of al-Mansur Qalawun
The complex of the Qalawun consists of a madrasa that teaches Islamic jurisprudence and Hadith, a mausoleum housing the body of al-Mansur and a hospital. The complex in general and especially the mausoleum is usually considered one of the most lavishly decorated buildings of Islamic Egypt. Its crown jewel is the Mihrab, an interior structure that shows the direction of Mecca, which is decorated with glass mosaics and calligraphy and is seen as the most flamboyant Mihrab within Islamic Cairo.
The Mosque Madrasa of Sultan Hassan
Perhaps one of the most gargantuan examples of Cairo’s Islamic architecture, is the mosque of Sultan Hassan which was constructed at the foot of the citadel in a cruciform layout consisting of four iwans. Each iwan was dedicated to teaching one of the four schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam. The Mosque Madrasa of Sultan Hassan houses one of the biggest and most aesthetically appealing inscription bands carrying the Quran and the name of the Sultan. Across the street is the 19th century mosque al-Rifa’i, which also deserves a visit.
The Sultan al-Mu’ayyad Sheikh Mosque
Situated right next to Bab Zeweila, the mosque of Muayyad Sheikh is the last monumental hypostyle mosque built in Cairo. Its portal or main entrance is quite fascinating with its multi-tiered muqarnas (ornamental arches). Although it’s located near some of the busiest streets in Old Cairo, its creative design keeps the environment inside serene and tranquil. The mosque is infamously known for its bronze door and chandelier which was seized from the Sultan Hassan mosque.