Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – CLXXVII. A Return Visit (6 of 15)

The Citadel and Mohammed Ali’s Mosque

To the south of the Citadel, you will see a park which was a parade ground and polo field for the Mamelukes.

At the front is a gate that is closed to the public; its name is Bab El Azab (The Gate of Suffering). It’s an appropriate name since behind the gate there is a crooked lane enclosed by high walls; this is the place where Mohammed Ali massacred the Mamelukes chiefs after having invited them to a feast.

The entrance to the Citadel is on the North side. The military still used it when I was there. It has actually served as a stronghold to Cairo from 1176 when Salah El Din (better known as Saladin in the West) built it, to the reign of Mohammed Ali. For some 700 years, nearly all of Egypt’s rulers lived in the citadel, held court, dispensed justice and received ambassadors.

The sight of Mohammed Ali’s Mosque on the Cairo skyline is enchanting, less so though as you come closer. The interior is vast, the dome is huge, and the decorations are opulent, but of questionable taste. Overall, it doesn’t appeal to the spiritual side of the visitor. Mohammed Ali, whose tomb is on the right as you enter, presumably meant for this mosque to be a symbol of the Ottoman power he had snatched.

From the parapet, there is a good view of Cairo and the mosques of Ibn Tulun and Sultan Hassan.

The Mosque of Ibn Tulun

The Mosque of Ibn Tulun has to be the most impressive Islamic monument of Cairo. I was completely taken by its noble simplicity.

Ibn Tulun was sent to govern Cairo in 870 by the Abbasid Caliph who reigned in Baghdad at the time. He quickly asserted his independence and ushered a new prosperous age in Egypt. His dynasty, the Tulunids lasted until 905. His magnificent mosque borrows from the architectural style of Mesopotamia. It is the second oldest in Cairo and the largest.

It is a congregational mosque with a huge sahn (interior court in a mosque). It strives to accommodate as many faithfuls as possible.

Arcades encircle the sahn on four sides, deeper along the qibla wall (the wall of a mosque facing Mecca). Brick piers support the pointed horseshoes arches. The arches are decorated with carved stucco. The windows along the qibla wall have stucco grilles permitting a faint light into this deeper arcade with its prayer niche. The roof, like the repaired stucco work, was restored in the 20th century. However, the Koranic inscriptions carved in sycamore is original, untouched by time.

At the centre of the sahn is a 13th century fountain built by Sultan Lajin; to him we also owe the striking minaret opposite the qibla wall.

The effect as you enter the sahn is of severe simplicity, relieved by the details of carved stucco and sycamore and the arches. You should walk slowly around the sahn and enjoy the spectacle offered by the play of lights and shadows. Truly a harmonious ensemble.

The Mosque of Sultan Hassan

This mosque is both a mosque and a madrassa (school) and is therefore referred to as the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan.

It was built of stone in 1356-63 by Sultan Hassan, a Bahri Mameluke. It differs markedly from Ibn Tulun, and both mosques represent the two principal forms of existing mosques in Cairo.

The concept of a madrassa was first introduced by Saladin to combat and suppress the Fatimid Shi’ites. Classrooms and dormitory space required a vertical structure in the form of a cube.

Opening onto each of the sides of the central courtyard are four enormous vaulted halls or liwans, creating a cruciform plan. To the mosque-madrassa a domed mausolea was added. The tomb of Sultan Hassan, however, is empty; he was executed two years before its completion and his body disappeared.

The portal leads into a domed cruciform vestibule which takes you into a deep and sun-filled sahn; here again you can enjoy the play of light and shadow provided you do not come too late in the day.

The gazebo at the centre of the sahn has been rebuilt in the Ottoman style. The original fountain can now be found at the Maridani Mosque.

The Islamic and Coptic Museums

Part of the agreement with Halim was to visit these two museums, and we did. However, both visits were of necessity brief; our time having been mostly invested in the numerous historical mosques of Cairo.

Both merit some of your time if you are in Cairo; and you can visit each of them in two hours or less. Chances are you will get personalized attention from the attendants since there aren’t too many visitors.

I will not offer any description in this case since my recitation of my visit to Cairo will be interminable if I described everything.

Comments are closed.