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The Mosque Of Ahmed ibn Tulun

The founder :

Ahmad Ibn Tulun ( 263-265 A.H ), born around 835 A.D, 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, he supported his step-father Bakabak's governorship of Egypt.


He established himself as the province's independent ruler, and an aborted attempt to overthrow him encouraged Ahmed to attack Syria.


Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulun

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


The Mosque


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


1-Not only is it the oldest intact functioning Islamic monument in Cairo, it's also considered the 3rd 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 the architecture of the classical period of Islam.


3-It is one of the biggest mosques in Egypt. The mosque, together with the ziyada, occupies an area of 6.5 acres.


The plan of the Mosque:

Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulun

It's roughly square in shape, measureing 162 m. in length and 161 m. in width. The area reserved for prayer is rectangular in shape measures about 137 m. x 118 m.


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


The mosque surrounded by ziyadas (extensions) on 3 sides, a ziyada is an enclosed space or precinct 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 or Dar El Imarah (house of the government, or the ruler's residence), with its own entrance near to the Mihrab that Ahmed Ibn Tulun used to enter to the mosque before leading the prayer. 


The Entrance of the Mosque:


This mosque has 19 doors on 3 sides, each corresponding to another door in the ziyadas, and there are another 3 doors cut in the qibla's wall. The lintels are composed of palm-trunks, boxed with wood and you can see, that above a releasing arch, some of these doors still retain their original carving.


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 (the 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 squinch(a straight or arches 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 the ablution.


The Arcades:


The arcades around the courtyard, or the Sahn which are deeper on the qibla Riwaq, or the sanctuary side are formed by pointed arches on brick Piers. 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 masonry-engaged columns. Their capitals have the same bell shape as the bases, and both 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 Quibla Riwaq ( The Sanctuary ):


This gorgeous sanctuary includes 5 aisles, deeper than the others which are parallel to the Prayer niche ( the Mihrab). Although, 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 marvel the eye, adorned with their basket work capitals. Its stucco molding and the 2 stucco bosses on each side of the arch are original. The interior is decorated in Mameluk style, introduced by the 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 is composed of Palm logs boxed 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 Km. in length and it accounts for one-fifteenth of the entire holy book. 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 a shell conch.


There are 128 windows, arranged independent 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 windows stucco grills to the Tulunide Period, those of the plain geometrical design, while the rest displaying a large variety of more complicated geometrical patterns date back to the Fatimide and the Mameluk Periods. 


The Minaret:


It 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 top known as Mabkhara. This minaret caused controversy among the Cairo's Architectural Historians, as their is not enough information to date the structure.

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