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Egypt: The Aqsunqur Mosque (The Blue Mosque)


About Egyptian Mosques

The Aqsunqur Mosque (The Blue Mosque)

by Lara Iskandar

Facade of the Mosque and Madrasa of al-Ghuri


During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the heart of Islamic Cairo shifted south to an area called Darb al Ahmar (the red road), to the south and east of Bab Zuweila (Zuweila Gate). Many great Mamluk Monuments are found in the zone especially in Bab al-Wazir Street (Gate of the Minister) which is the main street leading to the northern side of the Citadel.

Exterior View of  Aqsunqur Mosque from Bab al-Wazir Street.

Exterior View of Aqsunqur Mosque from Bab al-Wazir Street.

1. Alin Aq Palace 2.  Khayerbek Complex 3. Aqsunqur Mosque

(Middle): Map


1. Alin Aq Palace
2. Khayerbek Complex,
3. Aqsunqur Mosque

ome of the Asunqur  Mosque from the roof and seen behind is the minaret of Umm al-Sultan  Shaaban with the missing top

Two of the earliest buildings on the Darb al-Ahmar road are the Mosques of al-Maridani (1339) and the so-called Blue Mosque (1347) more properly called after its owner, Amir (Prince) Aqsunqur al-Nassery.

The Blue Mosque shares a common wall with a 17th Century house named Mustahfazan House - after its owner- and is located next to the Khayerbek Complex which dates back to the 16th Century. Also nearby are two other interesting Mamluk Monuments; the Mausoleum of Amir Tarabay al-Sharifi (1504) and the Mosque of Umm al-Sultan Shaaban (1369) which lies further along Bab al-Wazir street.

Mausoleum of Amir Tarabay seen from the Aqsunqur Mosque



Above Left: Mausoleum of Amir Tarabay seen from the Aqsunqur Mosque. Above Right: Dome of the Asunqur Mosque from the roof and seen behind is the minaret of Umm al-Sultan Shaaban with the missing top.

The Mosque follows the traditional hypostyle plan, a Durqa'a (central courtyard) surrounded by four porticoes, the largest of which is the main prayer hall with two Iwans (side aisles).

To the left of the open courtyard is the Mausoleum of Aqsunqur and his son. Beside it stands the Mausoleum of his brother-in-law, Sultan Ala'a al-Din Kuchuk (the little one) son of al-Nasir Mohammed who ruled for five month before being assassinated at the age of six. To the right is the tomb of Ibrahim Aga Mustahfazan, owner of the adjacent house.

Mausoleum of Ibrahim Aga Mustahfan

Mausoleum of Amir Aqsunqur


Top: Mausoleum of Amir Aqsunqur. Left: Mausoleum of Ibrahim Aga Mustahfan.

A curious feature of this Mosque is the use of piers sustaining cross-vaults which could be

explained as the beginning of departure from the Bahri-Mamluk structural style, originally consisting of arcades formed of marble columns carrying arches supporting a flat wooden ceiling. Both square and octagonal pillars support the Mosque's arches giving it an unusual and unique aspect.

The open courtyard showing the cross vaults sustained by piers.

The open courtyard showing the cross vaults sustained by piers.


The open courtyard showing the cross vaults sustained by piers.

The name "Blue Mosque" derives from its East wall, the Qibla (direction of the Ka'ba, toward which believers turn to face for prayer) tiled from floor to ceiling in beautifully colored Majolica, the predominant shade being blue. This floral tile work was a later addition from one of the renovations carried out by Ibrahim Aga Mustahfazan. These tiles are in the style of ceramics manufacture in Iznik in Turkey, although the quality suggests they are provincial imitations possibly from Damascus.

Another notable feature of this Mosque is its fine marble Mihrab (prayer niche)

Another notable feature of this Mosque is its fine marble Mihrab (prayer niche)

And one of the oldest surviving Minbars (pulpits). It is decorated with an unusual design of bunches of grapes and vine leaves and inlaid with colored stones.

Side view of wooden Minbar


Above: Side view of wooden Minbar.

Right: The marble Mihrab.

one of the oldest surviving Minbars (pulpits)


The marble Mihrab

The Mosque's Minaret

The Mosque's Minaret that was restored at the

beginning of the 20th Century has features that are rare in Cairene Minarets. Originally composed of four stories, now only three remain; the first story, plain and circular rising from the square base, the second also circular and ribbed and the third is open, octagonal and carries a bulb. The original minaret of Aqsunqur and the rectangular minaret of al-Ghuri are the only documented four-story minarets in Cairo. It had an exceptional view of the street, this was subjected to many illustrations showing the four-story instead the regular three.

The fourth story, which surmounted the present octagonal one was the standard circular pavilion consisting of eight slender columns supporting a bulb. The minaret is also unique as it is one of the few that have a circular section from the base to the top.

Street Facade of the Aqsunqur Mosque.

Top: Street Facade of the Aqsunqur Mosque.

Top Left: Staircase leading to the Minaret entrance.

Left: Minaret with a strategic position on the corner of the Mosque.

Staircase leading to the Minaret entrance.


Minaret with a strategic position on the corner of the Mosque.

The Aqsunqur Mosque is very characteristic of the Mamluk architecture, a carefully composed monumental faade, it presents the street viewers with a view of a tall dome, elaborate carved surfaces and a slender minaret. Instead of the usual position at the portal, the minaret is strategically located at the southern corner of the faade, which projects into Bab al-Wazir Street. This provides it with a complete visual domination of the street and the surrounding area.


See Also:

References:

Lara Isklander is employed in the field of Islamic monument restoration in Cairo, and this article draws from her experience in that field.

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