The Al-Ishaqi Mosque
by Lara Iskander
This exceptional structure lies in the Darb al-Ahmar district next to Suq Al-Silah Street in Cairo, which means the weapon Market Street thought this is not the case.
The Darb al-Ahmar street is also sometimes called Darb al-Tabbana and is extremely rich with various Islamic monuments such as the old Fatimid gate, Bab Zuweila and opposite it is the Mosque of Sultan al-Mu'ayyad Shaykh both of which are very impressing buildings.
Al-Ishaqi Mosque dates back to the Circassian Mamluk period. It was built between 1479 and 1481 during the reign of Sultan Qaytbay by Prince Sayf al-Din Qijmas who occupied several important posts at the time. He was the master of the Sultan's stables, held the post of treasurer and was officer in charge of the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Ishaqi Mosque has the most remarkable facades overlooking Darb Al-Ahmar street and another narrow alley. It projects an amazing view with its beautiful towering minaret and dome seen while walking down the street from the direction of Bab Zuweila.
The dome is plain stone and the minaret has a central section, which is somehow unfamiliar for this period.
Wooden ceiling of the Qibla iwan
The main faade is above the street level and is crenelated, with a muqarnas (stalactites) corbel and several grilled windows. Above the entrance portal is a magnificent panel of ablaq marble panel featuring black, white and red leaf forms contained in a tri-lobed groin-vaulted arch.
View of al-Ishaqi Mosque minaret and dome
Detail of the ceiling inscriptions
Two stone bench are found on each side of the entrance above which is a Quranic inscription; "In the name of God the compassionate, the merciful, mosques are for God, lets none take God's name in vane." The mosque door is decorated with a central bronze medallion that is probably not the original one.
View of the open corridor leading into the mosque durqa'a;
The entrance leads into a small vestibule with an impressing gilded ceiling. It opens onto a roofless corridor that works as a distribution area, a lighting and ventilation zone for the ground floor.
The floors are paved with marble panels and are in a very good state. The interior is richly decorated with colored glass windows, fine stone carvings, marble panels and a carefully decorated mihrab in the qibla iwan all roofed by a marvelous decorated wooden ceiling.
As was common, the mosque is built above shops that occupy the street level. They are continuous all around the exterior walls of the mosque. This was generally the case in most of the religious buildings to generate income for preserving the establishment in a good state.
Bridge leading to the Kuttab on the opposite side of the alley;
View of the Sabil on the street faade and the shops over which the mosque is elevated
The Sabil is situated on the street faade near the entrance.
The mosque is attached to a separate structure, the sabil-kuttab situated across the alley and reached from the interior of the mosque by an elevated passage or bridge covered with wooden mashrabbeyas. This bridge created a beautiful narrow arched alley where trades and crafts men display their products. This building is now used as an elementary school.
Prince Qijmas al-Ishaqi died in Syria in 1487 where he was governor and was buried in Damascus. In 1852, a man named Abu Hurayba was buried in the tomb chamber of the complex is reached through the qibla iwan. This is why the mosque is mostly known as Abu Hurayba mosque.
The mosque was restored twice, in 1894 and again in 1982 and so, it remains today in a good condition.
This complex is considered to be one the most important of the reign of Sultan Qaytbay for in it, high standards of workmanship and skills were used and are seen in it's design and decorative elements.
An interesting fact about this mosque is that its faade appears on the Egyptian fifty-pound note indicating further more its importance up till this day.
References: Original research by Lara Iskander