Cairo Citadel

We were surprised to learn that Egypt had been ruled by foreign powers for more than 2,000 years after the pharaohs. On a hill above Islamic Cairo, the Citadel had some buildings of these foreigner rulers:

  • The watchtower and other fortifications were built in the 12th century by the Arab Saladin, who took Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187.
  • The green dome in the center is the only mosque remaining from the Mamluks, former Turkish slaves who came to power in the 13th century.
  • In 1811, the Albanian Muhammad Ali invited hundreds of Mamluk leaders to a celebration for his son and slaughtered them, eliminating rivals for the control of Egypt. Mohammed Ali was aligned with the Ottoman Empire, and his Mosque of Mohammed Ali on the left is similar to Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia.

The Citadel and Islamic Cairo form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Founded in the 10th century, it (Cairo) became the new centre of the Islamic world, reaching its golden age in the 14th century.”

Muslim Arabs wrested Egypt from the Eastern Roman Empire in the 7th century. Of the Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty, Saladin built the Citadel on a hill to help defend Cairo from Crusaders.

Mosque of Al-Nasir Muhammad

“The Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala’un Mosque is an early 14th-century mosque at the Citadel in Cairo, Egypt. It was built by the Mamluk sultan Al-Nasr Muhammad in 1318 as the royal mosque of the Citadel, where the sultans of Cairo performed their Friday prayers.” The glazed tile dome looks like the jade celadon green of China. The dome is attributed to a “craftsman from Tabriz”, a city in Iran ruled by Mongols at the time.

tiled minaret of Mosque Al-Nasir Mohammed, the only Mamluk mosque in Citadel not torn down by Mohammed Ali.

Our Egypt guide told us that Arab men take their father’s given name as part of their name. For example, the ibn Qala’un in the sultan’s name means that he is the son of Qala’un. Patronymics are common in other cultures, such as Russian. Also, transliteration from Arabic is not standard — Mohammed is the same as Muhammad, for example.

Every mosque has a mihrab and minbar. The mihrab is a “semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla; that is, the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca and hence the direction that Muslims should face when praying.” The blue patterns of the carpet are arranged so that each spot faces Mecca and provides  enough space for a person to kneel and pray. The minbar is “the raised platform from which an Imam (leader of prayer) addresses the congregation.”

mihrab and minbar of Mosque Al-Nasir Mohammed

Across the courtyard, the hypostyle hall is a roof supported by columns. The minaret is a tower to call people to prayer. This minaret is a Mamluk style, with patterns on the minaret.

courtyard and minaret of the Mosque of Al-Nasir Mohammed

Mosque of Mohammed Ali

The adjacent Mosque of Mohammed Ali is built in the Ottoman style: tall, pointed minarets and a central dome with side domes.

Mosque of Mohammed Ali

The courtyard has an ablution fountain and a French clock. Muslims wash themselves before prayer at the ablution fountain. The tower holds a brass clock from France that was traded in 1845 for an obelisk from the Luxor Temple. The French clock quickly stopped working, and the obelisk still stands at the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

ablution fountain and French clock

We first visited this mosque on a weekday morning. It was quiet, and we sat with our guide, listening to the story of the mosque and taking in the splendor of the domed ceiling, decorations, and lights. The mihrab and minbar are under the far dome, as indicated by the usual prayer spots on the red carpet.

on a weekday morning, we talked quietly near the mihrab and minbar of Mosque of Mohammed Ali

The ceiling of the Mosque of Mohammed Ali is decorated in green and gold. Click on any photo to view a larger image. The second photo was shot with a longer exposure and lower ISO, producing a higher quality image. I handheld the first one. For the second one, the 1/5 second exposure was too long to handhold; instead I focused and placed the camera on the floor with a timer delay. Notice that the wires holding the lights do seem to converge on the same point, just as perspective says they will.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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