Masjid Ibn Tolun
The Ibn Tulun Mosque is a huge and historic mosque in Cairo built by Ahmad Ibn Tulun. The oldest mosque in Egypt and one of the largest in the world, it is also famed for its lovely architecture and unique minaret.
Ahmad Ibn Tulun built this mosque from 870 to 879 AD in order to accommodate all of his troops. It was the third congregational mosque to be built in the Cairo area and the oldest mosque in Egypt that has survived mostly in its original form.
Ibn Tulun was the son of a Turkish slave of Mongol origins owned by the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun. From these humble origins he rose to great power, founding the Tulunid Dynasty (868-905 AD) of Egypt.
After becoming the ruler of Egypt, Ibn Tulun founded a new city called al-Qata’i on a rocky outcrop, clearing a Christian and Jewish cemetery in order to do so. Many biblical legends were attached to this hill: it was said to be the landing site of Noah’s Ark, the place where Moses had confronted Pharaoh’s magicians, and near the place where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac.
When the Abbasids regained power in 905, Ibn Tulun’s city was razed, but the great mosque at its center was spared. But as the city center shifted away from the rock, the mosque fell into neglect. In the 12th century it was used as a shelter by pilgrims, which caused some damaged.
The Ibn Tulun Mosque was first restored by Mamluk Sultan Lajin in 1296. Lajin had been a conspirator in the assassination of Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil ibn Qalawun. He hid in the deserted mosque and vowed to restore it if he escaped with his life. This restoration included the rebuilding of the famously unique minaret.
There have been several renovations in modern times, including major work in 1999 that included the paving of the courtyard and the refacing of the fountain in black marble.
The entire complex of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun is surrounded by a wall and covers more than 6 acres. With an area of 26,318 sq m, the mosque itself is the third largest in the world.
The mosque is constructed around a courtyard, with one covered hall on each of the four sides, the largest being on the side of the qibla, or direction to Mecca. The original mosque had its ablution fountain (sabil) in the area between the inner and outer walls. A distinctive sabil with a high domed roof was added in the central courtyard at the end of the thirteenth century by the Sultan Lajīn.
The arches of the courtyard galleries are decorated with beautifully carved stucco, the first time this medium was used in Cairo.
The minaret, the only one of its kind in Egypt, is modeled after the minarets of Samarra, with a spiral staircase around the outside. Andalusian influence can also be seen in the horseshoe arches of the minaret windows and elsewhere – this was brought to Egypt by Muslim refugees who were driven out of Spain by the Reconquista (1212-60).