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jueves, 24 de mayo de 2012

Ibn Tulun Mosque

Follow the Scrip

Ibn Tulun Mosque bears witness to 1200 years of Egyptian history
By Yasser Salhin - Horus Magazine vol.24 2006

The beauty and splendor of Ahmed Ibn Tulun Mosque which appears on the Egyptian five-pound note, is something you have to see to believe. One visit was all it took to for me to fall in love with masterpiece, which dates back more than 1200 years and is a standing tribute to Islamic art and architecture.
The mosque's location was chosen with great care. It is situated on a high-rise area that used to be known as Yashkur Hill. The mosque stands gracefully in Ahmed Ibn Tulun Square in Cairo's historic Sayyeda Zeinab district. It is the third oldest mosque in Egypt, built after Amr Ibn Al-Aas and Al-Askari Mosques (the latter of which no longer exists), and one of the few that retains much of its original design details.

Prince Abu Al-Abbas Ahmed Ibn Tulun commissioned the building of the mosque in 262 H (876 AD). It opened three years later and quickly became a symbol of Tulunid rule, which lasted for more three decades.

Prince Tulun – whose father a Turkish mamluk – was born in Baghdad in 220 H(835 AD), raised in a religious household, received his military training in Samarra  and was then sent to Egypt as governor in 254H(867 AD). He was known as much for his courage and piety as he was for his strong personality, all of which helped him establish the Tulunid Dynasty in Egypt.

Ibn Tulun was a lover of architecture and one of the greatest landmark he left behind was the city of Qata'i, which he declared his capital . The name of the city comes from the word 'section', and it was called that because Ibn Tulun divided the city into districts categorized by race, trade or profession. He also built the city because Al-Fustat and Al-Askar (capital of the Abbasid Dynasty) had become densely populated. He undertook the restoration of Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos), and built a palace, a hospital, a square and the barrages in Al-Basateen district as well as the Ibn Tulun Mosque.

Ibn Tulun Died in 270 H (883 AD), succeeded by his son Khumarawaih, and the mosque he left behind is one of the oldest in the Islamic world. While the original structure covered an area of six-and-a-half acres, it now spans a larger area because of the many renovations and expansions it has undergone over the years. It is considered to be a 'hanging mosque' because you arrive at its interior doors via a series of spiral staircases.

It is easy to see how strongly Ibn Tulun was influenced by his life in Samarra by looking at the architectural style of the buildings in Al-Qata'I, which closely resemble the Iraqi city. The use intersecting floral patterns made out of wood is a prominent feature, a style that would later become known as arabesque.

The original walls enclosing the mosque had 21 doors. After the many expansions that tool place, another wall was added with 21 doors mirroring the originals. These entrances make it accessible from the surrounding markets and residential areas. According to historians, the district was becoming so much that renting a small booth(typically used by merchants) around the mosque cost 12 dirhams considered a large sum of money at the time.

Once you walk through the mosque's outer walls, you can reach the courtyard from any of the doors. The mosque's open courtyard is surrounded on all sides by four 'riwaqs', or arcades surrounding the courtyard of a mosque. The largest of the four is 'qibla riwaq', the one facing the direction to Mecca. Lining the 'riwaq's arches' surrounding the courtyard are decorative gypsum friezes, which are inscribed with both complete texts from surat Al-Baqara and Al-Omran in Kufic script. Surrounding the mosque's four walls from the top are more than 129 lattice windows with fascinating, detailed patterns.

The qibla riwaq houses the main 'mihrab' an arched niche in the qibla wall indicating the direction of Mecca and prayer. Decorated with colorful, gilded mosaic, this mihrab dates back to the time of the Mamluk Sultun Hossam Eldin Lajin, who commissioned the restoration of the mosque in 696 H (1296 AD). It contains an inscription in Naskh script that reads,'' There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger''.

The wooden minbar (pulpit from which the sermon at the Friday noon prayer is given) in this riwaq also dated back to the time of Sultan Lajin, and is considered one-of-a-kind in the history of Islamic architecture.

The mosque boasts a large dome in the center of its courtyard. The original dome was destroyed in a fire and then replaced during the time of Fatimid Caliph Al-Aziz bi-Allah in 385 H (995 AD). This one was also destroyed and replaced by the one currently in place, which was built during the restoration project of Sultan Lajin's time in 695 H (1295 AD). This dome rests on a square base of four arcades with seven rows of architectural decorations similar to a beehive, a style that becomes popular in Islamic architecture.

The minaret is one of the most marvelous in Egypt, the only one with an external staircase, a style similar to the one found in mosques in Samarra. The minaret is divided into four parts, the first is square, the second is round, the third is octagonal and the fourth has a parapet modeled on the shape of an incense burner, a style distinctive of mosques built during the Mamluk era. Archaeologists believe that the first and second levels were part of the original structure, while the third and fourth levels were added on during Sultan Lajin's time.

The mosque endured times of prosperity and of decline. It was restored several times including in 470 H (1077 AD) under the auspices of minister Badr Al-Deen Al-Gamaly, a prominent name in the history of restoring Islamic architecture. In this past century it was refurbished by the Arabic Monuments Preservation Committee and recently by the supreme Council of Antiquities.

A tour through this landmark in Egyptian history is a must because only then will you discover that it is more exquisite than words can describe.

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