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Egypt`s Blue Mosque

Friday, June 24, 2011

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The more popular Blue Mosque in Istanbul is better known to most people. It grandeur and size is breath-taking. However, a little known secret is that Cairo has a Blue Mosque too! Although not as glamourous as the one in Istanbul, it is the only mosque outside Turkey that uses authentic blue tiles in its construction.
The Blue Mosque, or properly known as Aqsunqur al-Nassery Mosque was built in 1347 during the Mamluk era. To the left of the open courtyard is the Mausoleum of Aqsunqur and his son. Beside it stands the Mausoleum of his brother-in-law, Sultan Ala al-Din Kuchuk (the little one) son of al-Nasir Mohammed who ruled for five month before being assassinated at the age of six. To the right is the tomb of Ibrahim Aga Mustahfazan, owner of the adjacent house.

A curious feature of this Mosque is the use of piers sustaining cross-vaults which could be explained as the beginning of departure from the Bahri-Mamluk structural style, originally consisting of arcades formed of marble columns carrying arches supporting a flat wooden ceiling. Both square and octagonal pillars support the Mosque arches giving it an unusual and unique aspect.

The name "Blue Mosque" derives from its East wall, the Qibla (direction of the Kaba, toward which believers turn to face for prayer) tiled from floor to ceiling in beautifully colored Majolica, the predominant shade being blue. This floral tile work was a later addition from one of the renovations carried out by Ibrahim Aga Mustahfazan. These tiles are in the style of ceramics manufacture in Iznik in Turkey, although the quality suggests they are provincial imitations possibly from Damascus.

And one of the oldest surviving Minbars (pulpits). It is decorated with an unusual design of bunches of grapes and vine leaves and inlaid with colored stones. This is the only known minbar and mihrab in Cairo that are made of pure marble.

The minaret of the mosque that was restored at the beginning of the 20th Century has features that are rare in Cairene Minarets. Originally composed of four stories, now only three remain; the first story, plain and circular rising from the square base, the second also circular and ribbed and the third is open, octagonal and carries a bulb. The original minaret of Aqsunqur and the rectangular minaret of al-Ghuri are the only documented four-story minarets in Cairo. It had an exceptional view of the street, this was subjected to many illustrations showing the four-story instead the regular three.

The fourth story, which surmounted the present octagonal one was the standard circular pavilion consisting of eight slender columns supporting a bulb. The minaret is also unique as it is one of the few that have a circular section from the base to the top.

The Aqsunqur Mosque is very characteristic of the Mamluk architecture, a carefully composed monumental façade, it presents the street viewers with a view of a tall dome, elaborate carved surfaces and a slender minaret. Instead of the usual position at the portal, the minaret is strategically located at the southern corner of the façade, which projects into Bab al-Wazir Street. This provides it with a complete visual domination of the street and the surrounding area.


  • [1] Williams, Caroline, Islamic Monuments in Cairo: The Practical Guide, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press 2002.

  • Keywords: Cairo, Egypt, mosque, Blue Mosque, Mamluks, Mamluk

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