The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

Sights & Travel

Al Azhar Mosque: Ancient Architecture and Design

Al Azhar Mosque: Ancient Architecture and Design
    written by
    Hannah Cooper

    When the sun sets
    on Cairo and
    the hazy sky fills the air, you may not be able to see the stars, but one thing
    you do see are hundreds of minarets gracing the skyline.

    Seeing as how one
    of Cairo’s many
      nicknames is ’the city of a thousand
    minarets‘, one cannot help gazing at the view without wondering where it all
    started.

    As the largest
    Islamic institution in the world and the most famous mosque in the Islamic
    world, Al Azhar Mosque is known worldwide by religious scholars and non
    scholars alike. While its construction began in 970AD, under the commission of
    Fatimid general Jawhar El Seqilli, it was completed and finally established in
    972AD. In dedication to Fatima Al Zahraa, daughter of the Prophet Mohamed, it
    was originally a meeting place for students of Islamic studies.

    In 975AD, the
    first lecture was given, initiating the foundation of the second oldest running
    university in the world, Al Azhar University. Presently, the university is not
    only the most prestigious location for Islamic studies worldwide, but has
    become the main centre for the study of Sunni theology and Sharia’ law.   

    Located in El
    Hussein square in Islamic Cairo, the mosque is set in the centre of several
    Islamic monuments and nearby mosques. The grandeur of its size and architecture
    is quite difficult to miss. While the building has been architecturally
    remodelled and added on to over the years, parts of the original structure are
    still intact. Five ancient minarets grace its construction with various
    cascading columns and balconies interloping on the building’s sides. The mosque boasts five entrances, and the main entrance to the mosque, also
    known as the barber’s gate, was originally named after the area where students
    would have a shave before entering.

    Once inside the
    mosque, the courtyard is fascinating not only because of its size (spanning
    around 84 by 34 m), but because it is completely surrounded by beautifully designed
    porticos and supported by over 300 marble columns that stem from its original foundation.

    The main prayer
    hall of the mosque is to the east; containing row after row of intricately designed
    Kufic inscriptions on the interior walls. Detailed stucco decorations and
    geometrically shaped patterns and panelling are carved into inlets and corner
    coves, a credit to the restoration commissioned by various leaders including
    Sultan Baybars the First.   

    In 1340, a
    library was added adjacent to the courtyard and in 1753; another hall was constructed
    to hold the tomb of Jawhar El Seqilli, in dedication to the general.

    While the
    majority of the architecture stems from a hypostyle design, the flat ceiling
    and columns found throughout the entire grounds are reminiscent of the ancient
    past, which can be felt through the intricacies of the detail and devise.

    Although planned
    tours of Al Azhar are not offered, visitors are welcome to stroll around and
    contemplate its history, architecture, and present day atmosphere. Scarves and
    shoe booties are not provided so if you’re going for a look, make sure to dress
    in appropriate clothing: as with all mosques, women are asked to veil their
    heads and wear long, loose clothing, while men are asked to wear long trousers.
    Take off your shoes when entering the mosque, and carry them with you in your
    bag. When entering a prayer area, keep your voices down and do not walk in
    front of a praying individual out of respect for the mosque.

    recommended