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Cairo: History
Islamic Cairo

Tulunid Cairo: al-Qata'i

Nothing much remains of the Abbasid center of al-Askar (situated in the quarter now known as Sayyida Zeinab). Although most Tulunid buildings of al-Qata'i are also gone (the stone was taken to build the Fatimid quarter al-Qahira) the

original Mosque of Ibn Tulun still stands and is arguably the most beautiful of all Cairo's Islamic monuments. The construction of this mosque was ordered after Fustat residents complained of cramped conditions at Friday prayers in the Mosque of Amr and was carried out from 879


to 880. Its architectural style is largely of Iraqi origin and is unique in Egypt: fired brick walls, stucco decoration and the three ziyada or external courtyards are also found in the early mosques of Samarra, Iraq. The architect is thought to have been a Christian from Mesopotamia called Ibn Katib al-Farghani, who built false columns into larger brick pillars to avoid the common practice of taking capitals from existing churches.

The square minaret is also unique in Egypt and provides a wonderful view of the city. This mosque was used as a military hospital, a salt warehouse and a beggars' prison in the nineteenth century, before being carefully restored in 1918. Visitors to this building should also stop at the Gayer-Anderson House next door; actually two sixteenth-century houses joined together, this museum contains a wonderful collection of medieval art.

Some may recognize the interior, which was used in a James Bond film. These two attractions should be a top priority for anyone interested in Islamic art and architecture, but visitors should bear in mind that appropriate dress is required for all mosques.
(Alison Gascoigne)



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