MOSQUE OF AHMAD IBN TÙLÙN
the massive Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Iùlûn. Built between 876-79, it is the largest mosque in Cairo and the earliest retaining its original fabric. To enter turn up the street on the right.
Tülün, father of Ahmad, was one of the Central Asian slaves presented to Khalif al-Ma’mum c 815 and rose to be commander of the household guards Ahmad (born 835) received his military and theological training in Samarra and Tarsus. His unusual intelligence and courage attracted the attention of the khalif and in 868 he was made proxy for his step-father Bâkbâk’s governorship of Egypt, He had to contend with the corrupt financial administration of Ibn al-Mudabbir which he successfully eliminated and assumed complete control. When his father-in-law Yarjukh assumed governorship of Egypt Ahmad was confirmed in the post of proxy. As a countermeasure against the revolt of other provinces Ahmad built up a large slave army of men from Central Asia, Sudan and Asia Minor. At this time the khalif al—Mu’tamid divided the administration of the empire between his son Ja’far, who received the Western provinces, and his brother al Muwaffaq, the more powerful of the two, who received the Eastern provinces. Revolts and internal discord preoccupied al-Muwaffaq and Ahmad seized the opportunity to declare his independence. An abortive attempt to remove him encouraged Ahmad to occupy Syria, which he did despite a revolt by his son ‘Abbas in Egypt. After several more attempts to dislodge Ahmad by propaganda and force it became apparent to al-Muwaffaq that Ahmad’s position would have to be formally recognised. Ahmad died in 884 to be succeeded by his son Khumarawayh.
This was a period of great prosperity for Egypt. Large revenues no longer left the country but were used to stimulate trade and industry, while the reform of the fiscal system encouraged a fairer distribution of wealth. To accommodate the immense army,the administration and other followers, and also to enhance his own claim to independence, Ahmad decided in 870 to construct a new city to the NE of al-“Askar, which itself was just NE of Fustatt. He chose an area where the first foothills of the Muqattam range rise from the plain. bordered to the E by the hills that now contain the Citadel and on the W by the Qal’at al-Kabsh (see above]. This city, called al-Qatàî’ (the Concessions), contained a huge arena, a palace, the great mosque and countless dwellings and markets. It was served by an aqueduct that had an intake tower at al-Basatin to the S. Of this marvellous city only the mosque and part of the aqueduct and intake tower remain.
The site chosen for the mosque was an outcrop of rock called Gabal Yashkur. Some time previously the architect of the intake tower of the aqueduct, a Jacobite Christian from Syria, had been imprisoned, but when he heard that Ahmad wished to build a mosque without robbing churches of their columns he wrote to tell him that he could do this. Brick piers had recently appeared in the mosques in Iraq but were an innovation in Egypt and when the drawings were shown to Ahmad he was well pleased. The plan of the mosque, although showing certain similarities to those previously constructed in Iraq, seems to have taken much of its inspiration from the Mosque of ‘Amir as it appeared in the 9С.
small fire in the mosque necessitated repairs by the Khalil al-‘Azíz in 995 while further restoration was undertaken by Badr al-Gamali in 1077 and his son al-Afdal in 1094. By the mid 13C the mosque was surrounded by desolation, the main commercial activity having moved N to al-Qahirah. In 1294 the Amir Lagin, who had been implicated in the assassination of Sultan Khalil, sought refuge here. The mosque was lit at night by a single lamp and he swore that if his circumstances changed he would restore the mosque to its former glory. His circumstances did indeed change and in 1297 after the deposition of Sultan Kitbughâ he was elected sultan. True to his oath he ordered the amir ‘Alam al-Din Sangar to undertake the work, spending 20,000 dinars on the project. This restoration included the fountain in the centre of the sahn, the minaret, a mihrab, and the dome above, a minbar and many of the window lattices. Strangely his architect chose in several cases to reconstruct in the ancient style and not to use the current Mamluk forms,- whether under direct instruction from Lägîn or personal whim is not known. Sultan Qàyt-bày built a sabil in the SW ziyadah in the 15C. During Ottoman times the mosque received little attention, although in 1684 Bilal Agha renewed some of the woodwork. By the end of the 18C it was a woollen factory and in the mid 19C a hospice for the disabled. When the ﬁrst arcade of the qiblah riwàq fell in 1882 it was decided by the newly-formed CPAM that the building should be restored. In 1918 King Fù’äd I allotted £3E40‚000 for work on the mosque. Much work has been undertaken since then and it now has much of its original appearance although without its pristine gleaming white walls and gilded decoration and inscriptions.
The whole building as constructed for Ahmad consists of small red bricks covered with fine plaster in which the decoration has been carved. Much of the original wooden decoration has been retained. The only stone parts are those added by later sultans.
The façade on the street is the wall of the NE Ziyädah (extension); at 8m it is lower than the mosque proper. This wall is plain except for a frieze of squares with central circles. Along the top of the wall runs the unique open work cresting, 2m high; it has no known precedent. Ziyadahs (open precincts) were intended to separate the mosque from the secular areas of the town as the avenues of several markets ended at the doors of the precinct. Several mosques in Egypt possessed such precincts but this is the only one in which they are retained. They surround the mosque on three sides—NE, NW and SW—and the area covered makes the ground plan of the mosque an almost perfect square, 161.5m by 162.25m. Instead of a ziyadah, the SE wall was abutted by the Dar al-Imarah (House of government; now destroyed), with its own entrance into the mosque. Here Ahmad would stay and bathe before leading the Friday prayer.
There are six plain doorways in the wall of the NE ziyadah, as in the SW, but seven in the NW. The interior of the ziyadah, 19m wide, is some height above ground level, and on the opposite side is the wall of the mosque proper. Similar to the wall of the ziyadah, it is higher (13m), and has a row of windows along the whole length of the wall, c 7m above the floor of the ziyadah. The pointed arches rest on squat pillars and between each is a small multiple- lobed niche. The frieze along the summit of the wall and the cresting are similar to those on the ziyadah wall. Doors correspond- ing to those in the ziyadah pierce the wall of the mosque higher than ground level; there are two more at the SE corner. There are also seven in the SW ziyadah and five in the NW, all originally reached by semicircular ﬂights of steps, several of which have been restored. The lintels are composed of palm-trunks, boxed with wood and above a releasing arch. Two of the large doors at each end of the qiblah riwâq retain their original carving.
The mosque proper measures 140.3m SE—NW and 122.2111 NE—SW with a central sahn 92m sq., surrounded by riwaqs of two arcades on the NE, SW and NW sides and five arcades in the qiblah riwaq. There are a total of 13 arches in each row of the first two riwaqs and 17 in each of the last two. Each riwaq presents 13 arches around the sahn. The piers of the arches are oblong with engaged brick columns at each corner c 4m high, those in the qiblah riwâq being a half-metre higher; wooden plates are inserted into the piers as strengtheners. All the arches are pointed, with a slight return giving an ogival outline. The capitals of the columns are derived from late antique Corinthian forms with the addition of vine-leaf motifs. Around the arches of the sahn runs a continuous band of carved foliate decoration and between each arch is a pointed-arched opening, the decorated frame resting on small pillars. Flanking these openings are sunken eight-lobed disks. Above runs a frieze of carved daisy medallions, but the cresting has disappeared.
All the soffits of the arches were originally decorated with carved stucco but only a few in the SW riwaq have survived, with geometrical framework and cursive insets. The inner arcades are ornamented in a similar fashion although the decoration around the arches is in a style that derives from Samarra while the frieze above is of an entirely different type to that in the sahn. There are no disks flanking the openings. Below the roof a continuous Kufic inscription from the Qur’ân carved in sycamore fig wood circles the mosque several times; in total it is over ka long. Some of the most outstanding features of the mosque are the window grills though only a few at the E end of the qiblah n’wâq, composed of circles and part circles, are original. The remainder are the work of Sultan Lâgîn.
In the centre of the sahn is the Fawwarah (20m high), built for Sultan Lägîn by the court architect Ibn al-Rumiyyah to replace the wooden one built by Khalif al-‘Aziz in the 9805; this had in turn replaced the original decorative fountain. In design it reiterates one of the favoured Mamluk forms, the domed cube. The stone base measures 14m by 12.7m and has a pointed-arched opening in each side; in the NE wall is a staircase. The zone-of-transition has stepped corners with a window in the uppermost step and a large window of three lights on each side. Above, the dome is plain without a drum, eight windows piercing the base. The interior walls are plain; the dome is raised on a squinch of three tiers of five niches. Above this a continuous stalactite frieze runs around the base of the dome and above that a band of Naskhi inscription from the Qur’an dealing With ablution. A medallion at the apex of the dome also contains an inscription from the Qur’an. In the centre of the floor is an octagonal stone basin.
In 1882 the first arcade of the Qiblah Riwâq fell and restoration work immediately started on the mosque. On each of the two central piers of the second arcade is a flat carved stucco mihrab. That on the right is the Mihráb of the Wazir aI—Afdâl (M), son of Badr al-Gamälî, added in 1004. It is 3m high and surrounded by a wide band of decorated Kufic inscription. Below the upper border are three hori— zontal panels, the small first panel is inscription, the next ornament and the third panel more inscription. Filling the shoulders of the arch is geometrical decoration with a round space for a conical boss on each side. The pointed arch is composed of two lines of inscription raised on two small columns, and the tympanum is filled with palmettes and floral decoration. In the body of the mihrab are the remains of a monumental Kufic inscription (a cast of this mihrab taken in 1903 is on display in the MIA and shows much more detail than can now be seen]. This has no precedent among the Fatimid mihrabs in Cairo, and Creswell has given convincing evidence of its relationship to contemporary Persian mihrabs, although why this should be remains a mystery. On the arch in the left-hand side is a very similar Mihráb (L), added by Sultan Lägïn, an example of his archaic reconstruction.
On the right-hand central pier of the third arcade from the sahn is a Foundation Inscription (F), a rectangular slab of marble 97cm by 1.6m, in Kufic characters. It contains the Ayat al-Kursi (Throne Verse) from the Qur’án, and the date 265 АН (AD 879). The two central piers of the fourth arcade from the satin flanking the dikkah also each contain a mihrab, probably 10C. In the SE wall are four entrances, two ﬂanking the mihrab that led originally directly from the Dâr al—Imarah into the mosque. The MainMLhIâb consists of a double pointed- arched recess flanked by a pair of marble columns with basket-work capitals. The interior is decorated in Marnluk style with strips of polychrome marble above which is a band of Naskhi inscription in black mosaic on a gold background containing the shahadah. In the spandrels are two large bosses and round the whole is a frame of carved stucco. To the left beneath the ninth window from the NE wall is a further flat stucco mihrab with Naskhi and Kufic inscription known as the Mihrab of Sayyi’dah Naﬁsah, probably 13C. Above the main mihrab is a wooden dome, raised on a squinch of three over three niches. While the dome is undoubtedly Mamluk, the mihrab with its windows of coloured panes shows Ottoman influence and was probably contributed by Bilâl Aghâ. The Minbar is one of the earliest and finest in Egypt, made for Sultan Lâgîn in 1296 and consisting of heavily carved panels and a richly decorated stalactite canopy. There are only two older minbars, both Fatimid, the first in St. Katherine’s Monastery, Sinai, and the second in Qus.
Directly behind the mosque the wall of the NW Ziyadah rises about 1.1m; in the ziyadah, although not centrally placed, stands the Minaret, 40m high. Of unique form and constructed of limestone, it is connected to the roof of the mosque by a bridge supported on two large horseshoe arches. Evidence shows that this was part of the restoration of Sultan Lägîn in 1296 although built, at least in part, to the original spiral design similar to that at Samarra. The first storey has a square section. 21.3m high, it is decorated on each face with a pair of blind horseshoe—arched niches. A massive cylinder, 8.5m high, with a staircase circling the outside provides the second storey, while the third and fourth storeys are octagonal and more conventional in design, crowned with a ribbed dome. At the S end of the SW Ziyädah stands the SabiI of Sultan Qâyt-Bây.