The Mosque of El-Hakim
by Jimmy Dunn writing as Ismail Abaza
Al-Jamaleyia street along with Al-Muizz street, parallel to it, are two of the most known and visited places nowadays in Cairo. They contain the highest density and the most varied monuments, which form the heart of Islamic Cairo. Al-Ustadar Mosque lies next to Wikalat Bazara and opposite to the remains of Al-Musaferkhana Palace.
Amir Jamal Al-Din Al-Ustadar founded this mosque in 1407. He was one of the most influential and powerful amirs during the reign of Sultan Al-Nasr Farag Ibn Barquq who ruled Egypt in 1399. Jamal Al-Din was also responsible for several other constructions in the area and it is from whom the name of this quarter, Al-Jamaleyia is derived.
View of Quoranic Inscriptions
Although the mosque has somewhat of a strange location on the corner of a main busy street, it is cleverly designed. The architect accommodated the various requirements of a religious complex within the confines of the iwans regardless of its rectangular space: a bent entrance, a sabil, a tomb and the ablution area.
Left: Exterior View of Mosque; Right: Exterior View of Mosque
The structure has a distinguished architectural facade raised above shops that occupy the lower floor. This is a common feature usually seen in many Medieval Mosques and Madrasas as the rent of these shops contributed to the cost expenses of maintaining the building.
The plan of the mosque is one of the only three existing that have a cruciform madrasa plan which is dedicated to the four rites or religious schools.
Left: Wooden Ceiling of the Entrance Hall; Right: Wooden Ceiling of the Entrance Hall
The bent entrance covered with a beautifully ornamented wooden ceiling leads you into a square shaped courtyard that is covered in order to protect those praying form the direct sunrays.
The courtyard is surrounded by the four iwans where each one heavily decorated and different in size. A curious feature in the mosque is the size of the northwest iwan, which is almost one and a half times deeper than the one containing the prayer niche (qibla).
Left: A View of the Northwest Iwan; Right: The Wooden Minbar (pulpit) in the Qibla Iwan
The Qibla iwan is decorated with white, blue and gold arabesque panels while the turquoise pilasters remain as hints of the former richness of the decoration. Also found in the Qibla iwan is a distinguishably carved wooden minbar (pulpit).
This extensive and rich decoration in the four iwans of the mosque could be due to the fact that Amir Jamal Al-Din Al-Ustadar had the intention to create a sort of a palace to retire to it later on.
Several Views of the Qibla Iwan
Like many other monuments of the area, the mosque was seriously damaged over the years due to high humidity and the pollution. Other reasons that contributed to its sufferings where the ground floor shops along the narrow street and the 1992 earthquake that was largely responsible for its deterioration.
Left: View of the Well in the Ablution Area; Right: Detail of an Intricate Window
Today, Jamal Al-Din Al-Ustadar Mosque stands in good shape after three years of restoration work.
Though after its inauguration, some historians and archaeologists werent fully satisfied with the results of the restoration, mainly because of some additional built in light fixtures that took the historical air out of the monument.
Nevertheless, the monument regained part of its previous allure and now remains as a landmark and an example of Egypts rich Islamic historical period.
Islamic monuments in Cairo, the practical guide- Caroline Williams.
Personal Observation: Lara Isklander works as a restorer of Islamic monuments in Cairo