On your visit to Cairo you can not miss the Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan, part of the architectural ensemble called Historic Cairo, which is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Introduction

It is almost 8,000 square meters, making it one of the largest mosques in the world. It is also one of the finest examples of Mamluk architecture in Cairo and one of the most beautiful Muslim temples in Egypt.

History

The construction of this jewel of Islamic art took place in the mid-fourteenth century and was chosen for its location one of the highest points of the Citadel of Saladin and one of the best panoramic views that can be found in Cairo. Built of huge stone blocks and towering in height, the mosque is undoubtedly the ultimate symbol of the architectural power of the century of Mamluk rule in the region.

It was built by order of Sultan Hassan but he did not get to see his monumental work finished by some strange circumstances of which there are at least two different versions.

The first and most widespread is the bad omen derived from the collapse of a minaret. When it collapsed, it caused the death of more than 300 people, leading many to believe that there was a tragic divine message surrounding the accident. The rumor began to spread and soon became a certainty, which led to the assassination of Sultan Hassan, 33 days after the fall of the minaret. After the death of the sultan, the construction of the mosque continued.

The other version of the Sultan’s death has to do, on the one hand, with how exhausting the work was for the workers (it is said that Hassan ordered that there should not be a single day in which they did not work) and, on the other hand, with the prevailing corruption within his government, by placing related people in positions that had been occupied for years by other people. In short, Hassan angered many people in many different strata, so it did not take long for a plot to assassinate him to be hatched, which was consummated through the commander-in-chief of his army, Jalbugha al-Umari, a Mamluk whom the sultan thought to be loyal to him.

Characteristics of the mosque

According to the Arab historian al-Maqrizi, the Sultan Hassan Mosque cost 30,000 dirhams per day, making it the most expensive mosque in medieval Cairo. The supervisor of the construction was Amir Mohammed ibn Biylik, as indicated by an inscription on the mosque, who was also involved in other important constructions in Cairo.

The dimensions of the Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa are monumental. It is 150 meters long and occupies more than 7,900 square meters of surface area. The walls of the temple are 35 meters high and its minaret is almost 70 meters high.

The first thing you see when you cross its façade is a huge central courtyard with a very fine mosaic design and its ablution pool in the middle, whose function is the ritual purification of some parts of the body before prayer or Salat. From this courtyard there is access to the central room dedicated to prayer and to four secondary rooms with madrasas that were built as a space for the study of the sacred scriptures of the Koran. In the background, there is a mausoleum dedicated to Sultan Hassan.

The four secondary rooms (also called iwans) are notable for their chandeliers hanging from chains and their red and black borders. Each of these rooms is dedicated to one of the four Sunni schools. In each there is a madrasa with its own courtyard and four floors of cells for students and teachers.

An innovative mosque

The Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan has some details that were novel for the time in which it was built and that meant a change for the construction of later mosques in the Arab world.

The first is its huge egg-shaped dome, something unusual for the time and never seen in other mosques built in several Arab countries: Egypt, Syria, the Maghreb or Yemen. The second innovation is the arrangement of the mausoleum between two minarets, as well as the fact of placing it behind the prayer hall, something that in other times could have been considered a desecration of the sacred scriptures but, at that time, was not.

And a third innovation was the four-minaret plan, with twin minarets on each side, something that had never been done in any other mosque in the world but which also failed to come to fruition. Only the construction of three minarets was completed.

Some Arab historians point out a fourth innovation in the construction of the Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan, which has to do with its enormous dimensions, something very uncommon up to that time but which, without a doubt, influenced the construction of monumental mosques during the following centuries.

How to get to Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasah

It is located next to Al Rifa’i Mosque and the two are usually visited together, most of the time within a tour that includes other points of interest of the Saladin CitadelIbn Tulun Mosque and the Alabaster Mosque.

The most comfortable way to go is by cab or private car from your hotel, with the price previously agreed upon. Many excursions to the Saladin Citadel include transfer to and from the Citadel.

Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa Opening Hours

The mosque is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm.

Visit prices

To visit the Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa you must buy the combined ticket with the Al Rifa’i Mosque. Prices are 60 EGP for regular adult admission and 30 EGP for accredited students.

Photos of the Sultan Hassan Mosque

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