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The Largest Mosque in Cairo: The Sultan Hasan Mosque

Saturday, August 20, 2011

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Sultan Hassan Mosque is one of the largest mosque in Islam, and indeed the largest in Cairo. It measured 150 meters long, 76 meters wide, its sealings reach 36 meters high, and its tallest minaret is 68 meters tall. The mosque was commissioned by Sultan Hassan who as the son of the great Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun. In 1347, Sultan Hassan was first dethroned by other Mamluk generals and princes when he was only 13 years old. In 1356, he was able to regain his thrown, but acted as a puppet leader manipulated by other princes, such as Amir Sarghatmish. The mosque is now featured on the Egyptian one-hundred pound note.

Soon after Sultan Hassan regained power, he soon commissioned to build a great mosque on the foot of the citadel. It was built under the supervision of Prince Muhammad ibn Baylik Al-Muhssani using many artisans and engineers from all oever the world. It construction costs were 22,000 gold dinars every day for three years, which is a considerable sum even by today’s standards. The funding of the mosque was from money and property of people who died from Black Death that struck Cairo in 1348.

The mosque’s enormous portal was constructed at an angle so that it could be seen from the citadel, the kingdom’s government headquarters. It was originally to be flanked by two large minarets. However, when the first one collapsed killing some 300 people, the minarets were abandoned. The main door, which was an exquisite example of Mamluk art, was stolen in the 15th century by Sultan Muayyad Shaykh, who placed it at the entrance of his own mosque near Bab Zuwayla. In 1361, Sultan Hassan was murdered and never saw the completion of his mosque, which was finished in 1363.

Upon passing the main hallway of the mosque, one can see the courtyard, measuring 34 by 32 meters and paved with marble, with a beautifully large decorated center fountain. On each flank of the courtyard, there are large arched prayer areas (iwans) with door leading to four different classrooms; one for each Sunni school of thought: Shafi’I, Malaki, Hanafi, and Hanbali. The schools were meant to be able to hold up to 400 students.

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,
Surely we have given thee a manifest victory,
that God may forgive thee thy former and thy latter sins,
and complete His blessing upon thee,
and guide thee on a straight path,
that God may help thee with mighty help

Later on, Sultan Hassan Mosque has been the launching ground of several aborted uprisings against the Mamluk monarch from other Mamluk princes. During the reign of Sultan Barquq (1391), the steps and platform entrance to the mosque was ordered to be destroyed. Later in 1500, Sultan Janbalat, ordered the mosque to be destroyed, but due to popular uprising and discontent with this decision he was forced to abort his order. In 1517, the Sultan Turnanbay, the final Mamluk sultan, hid in the mosque to escape the Ottomans. Due to heavy structural damages during the warfare, the mosque was subsequently closed and reopened only in the 18th century after being repaired.


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

  • Keywords: Cairo, Egypt, mosque, Mamluks, Mamluk, Sultan Hasan Mosque

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