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The Founder

Ahmad Ibn Tulun ( 263-265 A.H.) was born around 835 A.D. He was one of the Turkish commanders in Samarra, located in Iraq. He received his military and theological training in Samarra and Tarsus. His intelligence and courage attracted the attention of the Khalif, and in 868 A.D, the Khalif supported his step-father Bakabak's governorship of Egypt.

Ahmad Ibn Tulun established himself as the province's independent ruler, and an aborted attempt to overthrow him was part of what motivated him to attack Syria.


Ahmed Ibn Tulun founded a new capital, Alqatai, around the hill of Gabal Yashkur, to the northeast of Al Fustat, completely destroying the Christian as well as the Jewish cemetery that was located in that area.

The Ahmad Ibn Tulun Mosque

The site chosen for his mosque was a rock outcropping called Gabal Yashkur.

1. Not only is this mosque the oldest intact functioning Islamic site in Cairo, but it's also the third mosque to be constructed for the entire community, and the congregation would join together for the noon prayer every Friday.

2. It is also a rare preserved example of the art and architecture of the classical period of Islam.

3. It is one of the biggest mosques in Egypt. The mosque, together with the ziyada (the extra or empty space between the mosque and the surrounding buffer wall), occupies an area of 6.5 acres.

Mosque Plan

ibn tulun plan

The Ahmed Ibn Tulun Mosque is roughly square in shape, measuring 162 m. in length and 161 m. in width. The area reserved for prayer is rectangular in shape and measures about 137 m. x 118 m.

The general design features an open court or central square (sahn) that is (about 92 m) surrounded by four riwaqs. The riwaq of the qibla contains 5 arcades, while each of the other riwaqs consists of 2 arcades.

The mosque is surrounded by ziyadas (extensions) on 3 sides, a ziyada is an enclosed space meant to separate the mosque from the markets in order to protect the mosque and the prayers from the noise of the street.

Outside the mosque, on the qibla wall, was the now-destroyed palace of Dar El Imarah (house of the government, or the ruler's residence). It had its own entrance near the mihrab and Ahmed Ibn Tulun used it to enter the mosque before leading the prayer. 

The Entrance of Ahmed Ibn Tulun Mosque

This mosque has 19 doors on 3 sides, each corresponding to another door in the ziyadas, and there are another 3 doors cut into the qibla's wall. The lintels are composed of palm trunks, boxed with wood and an arch above. Some of these doors still retain their original carvings.

The Foundation Slate

The Foundation Slate resides on the right-hand central pier of the 3rd arcade from the sahn; it includes the Foundation Inscription, a rectangular slab of marble ( 1,6 m X 97 cm) written in Kufic inscription containing The Verse of El Kursi (Ayat Al Kursi) from the Koran, that dates back to 265 A.H.

The Crenulations

Both the walls of the mosque and the ziyada are crowned with crenulations, similar to those childhood paper cut-outs depicting human figures with linked arms.

The Sahn (Courtyard)

It is square in shape, with each side measuring about 92 m. The original courtyard was not paved and filled with pebbles, as it is today, because this space was intended for prayer.

The Fawarah, in the middle of the Sahn, was the 3rd one created, after the first two were destroyed. The first one was the original built by Ahmed Ibn Tulun. It was gilded and stood on 10 columns of marble. The 2nd one was Al Aziz but was destroyed. The current one was built by Sultan Lagin Al Mansoury, who also constructed other areas for the mosque. It stands 20 m in height. This Fawarah was built by the architect Ibn Al Roumyyah. It has a Mameluk design and rests on 4 pointed arches, and the zone of transition has stepped corners, including a window in the uppermost step, plus 3 windows of 3 lights on each side. The dome is plain without a drum and raised on a squinch(a straight or arched structure placed to support the weight of a dome). Above, a continuous stalactite frieze runs around the base of the dome, and above that, a band of Naskhi inscription, from the Koran, depicts the ablution.

The Arcades

The arcades around the courtyard are deeper in the qibla riwaq, or the sanctuary side is formed by pointed arches. Beautiful rosettes and windows form a line of continuous and simple decoration. These arcades are supported by piers. 

Unlike columns, these piers are rectangular and decorated with four-sided masonry designs. Their capitals have the same bell shape as the bases, and both are plastered and carved. Originally, it appeared that all of the arcades had soffits of curved stucco similar to those restored in the southern arcade.

The Arches

The arches of the arcades are pointed and outlined with an edge of carved stucco, and spring from oblong supports rounded at the corners by pilasters or engaged columns.

The Qibla Riwaq (The Sanctuary)

This gorgeous sanctuary includes five aisles, deeper than the others which are parallel to the prayer niche (the mihrab). The other riwaq includes just 2 aisles. This Riwaq actually has 6 prayer niches or mihrabs

The main mihrab is in the middle of the qibla wall, it is the tallest and the only concave one The others are flat. The first consists of double-pointed arched recesses.

Byzantine-style marble columns amaze the eye, adorned with their basketwork capitols. It's stucco molding and the 2 stucco bosses on each side of the arch are original. The interior is decorated in Mameluk style, introduced by Sultan Lajin, featuring beautifully painted wood, as well as strips of polychrome marble. Above you can see a band of Naskhi inscription in black mosaic atop a gold background that contains the shahada. The Dikka of the Mouballegh (the bench of the Mouballegh) is situated in Riwaq Al Quibla, near the courtyard. It is a wide bench of marble columns used for communicating the words of the Imam during the prayer.

The Ceiling

The ceiling of the Ahmed Ibn Tulun mosque is composed of palm logs constructed in wooden panels. Below the ceiling, there is a long band with a beautiful inscription, carved on sycamore wood, which runs around the whole mosque and contains verses from the Koran. This frieze is 2 kilometers in length and it features one-fifteenth of the entire Noble Qur'an. Legend tells us that the boards used for this inscription are taken from Noah's Ark.

The Windows

The upper part of the mosque wall is pierced with pointed arch windows and flanked with colonnades. The windows alternate on the outside wall within blind niches, adorned with shell conches.

There are 128 windows, arranged independently of the arches so that not every arch has a centered window. These arched windows were created to provide light and reduce the weight carried by the arches.

The historian Creswell attributes only 4 of the window stucco grills to the Tulunide Period, those of the plain geometrical design. According to him, the rest display a large variety of more complicated geometrical patterns that date back to the Fatimide and Mameluk Periods. 

The Minaret

The minaret of the Ahmed Ibn Tulun mosque stands on the north side of the ziyada, where a door leads to an unusual stone structure that holds an outer staircase and a Mameluk-style top known as mabkhara. This minaret caused uncertainty among Cairo's architectural historians, as there is not enough information to accurately date when the structure was built. 

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