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12 Must-Visit Mosques in Cairo With Brilliant Architecture

Al-Azhar Al-Hakim Al-Rifa'i Amr Ibn Al A'As cairo egypt Ibn Tulun Mosques Muhammad Ali
12 Must-Visit Mosques in Cairo With Brilliant Architecture
written by
Cairo 360

Known as the City of a Thousand Minarets, Cairo has always had a reputation of being adorned by mosques. And that’s no exaggeration. Not only are Cairo’s mosques strikingly alluring, they’ve also been standing stoutly for thousands of years, hypnotising locals and tourists alike.

If you want to see for yourself what makes these mosques so special, we’re here to tell you that there are 12 mosques in particular that you need to visit. Check them out below. 

Mosque of Ibn Tulun

One of the oldest and largest mosques in Cairo (and in Africa, as a whole), the Mosque of Ibn Tulun was built around an open square-shaped courtyard to allow natural sunlight to bathe its decorations of carved stucco and wood in its glow. The mosque was constructed in 879 AD after being commissioned by the Tulunid Dynasty ruler Ahmad Ibn Tulun, and it’s no exaggeration to say you’ll feel like you’ve time-travelled once you step inside it. It’s one of the few mosques that has survived with its original form intact.

Built on the ancient Gebel Yashkur hill, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun is in the district of Sayeda Zeinab. Add it to your bucket list of Cairene gems, and don’t forget to take as many breathtaking photos as you can of Cairo from the mosque’s minaret staircase. 

Mosque of Muhammad Ali

By far the largest mosque to be built in the first half of the 19th century, the Mosque of Muhammad Ali is located on the summit of the Citadel, also known as the Citadel of Saladin. With its iconic silhouette seen in many Egyptian films, this mosque was built to commemorate Tusun Pasha, Muhammad Ali Pasha’s eldest son, after his death in 1816. 

Also known as the Alabaster Mosque, the mosque was built in the Ottoman style with two Turkish-inspired minarets that can be seen by anyone approaching the city from all directions. The main material of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali is limestone, which was said to be taken from the Great Pyramids of Giza. 

Mosque of Amr Ibn Al-A’As

Here’s a fun fact: The original structure of the Mosque of Amr Ibn al-As was actually the first mosque to ever be built in Africa! For almost 600 years, this mosque was known as one of the major, if not the most important, centres of Islamic knowledge until Al-Azhar Mosque took its place. 

The story of the mosque is simple, as the Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab built it on the land he’d chosen to be the then-new Egyptian capital, Al-Fustat. Unfortunately, due to extensive reconstruction of the mosque, nothing of its original structure remains, but it’s still one of the most mesmerising mosques in Cairo, so be sure to pay it a visit. 

Al-Rifa’i Mosque

Located in Salah Al-Din Square in Old Cairo, Al-Rifa’i Mosque can be found opposite the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. This mosque was constructed over two phases, between the years 1869 and 1912, when its construction was finally completed.

Commissioned by Khushyar Hanim, the mother of Khedive Ismail Pasha, Al-Rifa’i Mosque’s purpose was to expand the preexisting shrine of the Islamic saint, Ahmed Al-Rifa’i. Currently, this beautiful mosque stands as a famed touristic site and as the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Pasha’s family and also houses the tomb of Al-Rifa’i. 

Al-Azhar Mosque

Yet another prominent mosque in our beloved capital, Al-Azhar Mosque needs no introduction. This famed mosque’s name is derived from Al-Zahra, a title given to Fatima, the daughter of the Islamic Prophet Muhammed. After its establishment, Al-Azhar Mosque slowly developed into Cairo’s second-oldest university.

In terms of architecture, the mosque has borrowed from several eras of Egyptian history, including Ancient Egypt, Coptic Egypt, as well as Greek and Roman-ruled Egypt, in its construction. Al-Azhar can be instantly recognised for its three breathtaking minarets, which are even more beautiful when seen up close. 

Mosque of Al-Hakim (AKA Mosque of Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah)

The second major Fatimid mosque in Cairo, the Mosque of Al-Hakim, was built between 990 and 1012. Although the mosque was commissioned by Caliph Aziz, its construction was completed by his son Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, who promptly named it after himself. It’s said that when it was finally finished, Al-Hakim ordered a celebratory procession to take place in the city.

In terms of design, this mosque was greatly influenced by the Mosque of Ibn Tulun. Its facades and minarets are made of stone, while the rest of its structure is made of brick. If you visit this mosque, don’t forget to check out the calligraphy decorating it. 

Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan

Not only is this one a monumental mosque, but it was also a pretty prominent madrasa. The Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan was commissioned by Sultan Al-Nasir Hassan, who never lived to see the construction finished. Interestingly enough, building on the mosque continued even during the Black Plague, with the workers dedicating themselves to completing the project.

Until this day, the Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan is considered one of the most impressive historic monuments in Cairo for its massive size and innovative architectural elements. 

Aqsunqur Mosque (AKA Blue Mosque) 

Built in the 14th century, the Aqsunqur Mosque can be found in the Darb El-Ahmar district of Islamic Cairo, sandwiched between other historical landmarks like Bab Zuweila and the Cairo Citadel. Also known as the Blue Mosque because of its blue and green tiles (one of many Blue Mosques found around the world0, this mosque was built in the Ottoman style, with typical Iznik-styles tiles with floral motifs. 

Al-Nasir Mohammed Mosque

Built by Sultan Al-Nasir Mohammed Ibn Qalawun, Al-Nasir Mohammed Mosque was built in 1318 and can be found inside the Citadel of Saladin. Scarcely decorated, unlike most of Cairo’s mosques, the mosque is renowned for being ascetic and austere. 

A historical landmark, this mosque used to be where the Sultans of Cairo performed their Friday Prayers as they took a liking to its central courtyard. Of the mosque’s many magnificent traits, its two minarets are easily the most striking. 

Mosque of Queen Safia (Mosque of El Maleka Safia) 

The story behind the Mosque of Queen Safia is rather interesting. Unlike every mosque on this list, the mosque wasn’t commissioned by her, but rather by Uthman Agha, an agent and servant of her noble highness. After his death, Queen Safia took the reins of the mosque’s construction and added it to her fortunes. 

Located in a square that carries the queen’s name (Sikket El-Maleka) in Old Cairo, the Mosque of Queen Safia has a unique architectural fusion of both Ottoman and Mamluk styles, making the mosque a cultural melting pot. 

Qalawun Complex 

Another mosque built by Sultan Al-Nasir Mohammed Ibn Qalawun, the Qalawun Mosque was established in the 1280s as part of a complex that includes other facilities, including a school, hospital, and a mausoleum that’s considered to be the second most aesthetically pleasing mausoleum after the Taj Mahal. Perhaps the most impressive part about this mosque is its timeless design, which will compel you to take as many photos as possible! 

Al-Aqmar Mosque

A mosque nestled into the bustling Moez Street, Al-Aqmar Mosque is very similar to Al-Azhar Mosque in terms of style. Built by the Fatimid vizier Al-Ma’mun Al-Bata’ihi, who actually served in this position from 1121 to 1125 under the Caliph Al-Amir.

Although Al-Aqmar Mosque has been touted by many as having ‘seminal’ architecture, this sanctuary has been through several reforms and innovations that only served to make it look even better with time.