The Terbana Mosque in Alexandria
by Seif Kamel and Contributions by Zahraa Adel Awed
It was my first day in Alexandria on this trip. I have visited Alexandria many times before. I usually go there every year to have fun at its many beaches, along with the beaches of the north coast west of Alexandria. This time the objective of the trip was different. I wanted to explore the historical monuments in this jewel of the Mediterranean, and since I am an Islamic art fan, I wanted to explore the Islamic monuments in Alexandria and see the difference between them and the many Islamic sites in Cairo. Of course, I am also going to explore the more ancient sites as well.
But first, I took a taxi from Miami, where I stayed in Alexandria, to Fransa Street where the mosque of Terbana is located. Miami is usually one of the most crowded areas in Alexandria in the summer. It is considered, together with Sidi Bishr, to have the most popular local beaches and people from all over Alexandria and other nearby cities go to these beaches to enjoy the water and the sunshine. However, it was easy for me to find a taxi because taxi drivers in Alexandria dont usually refuse to take anyone anywhere and they dont usually argue a lot about the fare if it you give them a sensible price for the ride.
My destination was Anfushi, the Ottoman district in Alexandria. The peninsula leading to Fort Qaitbey was home to the inhabitants of Alexandria during the Ottoman Period between 1517-1914. The atmosphere here is different from the rest of the city and it is best experienced on foot. Inside this area is the famous Souq, the Market of Zanet El Setat. It was packed with crowds of women, as this is the most famous area for cloth in Alexandria. They also sell medical herbs and perfumes. Just beside this famous market lies the Terbana Mosque.
The founder of this mosque was Haj Ibrahim Bin Ebeid El-Maghrabi, one of the Moroccan merchants who came to Egypt from Mesratah. The mosque was built between 1684-1685 to serve as a resting place for the pilgrims coming from Morocco and other North African Islamic countries on their way to Mecca. There was a Sabil annexed to the mosque until 1993 AD / 1413 AH then it was destroyed.
This mosque is a hanging mosque because the prayer hall is on the second floor above a series of commercial stores that form a part of the monetary support foundation of the mosque from the rent and other revenues that they generate. This was a popular custom during the Ottoman and Fatimid Periods. Most of the other recent mosques in the area of Anfushi were built in the same hanging style as the Terbana Mosque.
This mosque was designed in a style that was most common in the delta during the Ottoman Period. The most important characteristic of this style is the small red and black stones which were used in decorating big houses and mosques at the time. The walls of the mosque are plain with no decoration to mention except for the marvelous mashrabeya windows that are all around the mosque. They are simple in their design but overall they look appealing.
The minaret of the mosque is unique in its design. It was built on two huge separate columns of granite on one side and attached to the mosque on the other. These columns have brilliant Roman decorations at the top. This minaret design was only found in the mosques of Alexandria during the Ottoman Period and the only remaining example is the one in the Terbana mosque.
The minaret itself has three sections. The first one has eight sides. A set of wooden stairs links the roof of the mosque to the second section of the minaret, which carries the balcony of where the Sheikh used to stand and call for prayers. The highest section of the minaret is shaped like a tube with a small beautiful dome surmounting it.
The first element that attracts one's attention is the decoration above the entrance of the stairs leading to the prayer area of the mosque. It is a lobed arch built of brick designed in the North African Style with black and red alternating colors. Three circles of decoration under two stars combine with the red and dark elements to make this portal a wonderful piece of artwork.
About ten steps up one finds the main entrance to the prayer hall on the right hand side. It is adorned with colored Kishani glazed tiles displaying geometric and floral motifs. Blue and brown colors dominate these decorations. Just above the door of the mosque there is an old text that attributes the building of the mosque to Ibrahim Terbana.
The prayer hall of the mosque is rectangular and measures three hundred and fifty square meters. It has two rows of columns parallel along the axis leading to the Mihrab. They support four rows of arches carrying wooden beams. Each column has a grand capital of varying styles. Most, if not all, of the columns are from the Roman and Greek Periods. These columns were part of ancient buildings that were destroyed over time. Many of them were also used to decorate public squares before they were used to build mosques in the Islamic Area in Alexandria. The Dikka of the mosque is placed facing the Mihrab wall and it is a big rectangular balcony. It is as long as the length of the hall prayer area.
There is a small set of stairs to the right that leads to the Dikka. This element is famous in the Ottoman mosques around Egypt and is similar to the Dikka of the popular mosque of Mohamed Ali in the Citadel and the Mosque of Solaiman Agha El Selehdar in Muiz Street in Cairo
The Mihrab of the mosque is beautiful, decorated with the same handmade Kishani tile that is used in the entrance. However, these Kishani tiles are of different sizes and designs that create an amazing and original pattern. There are also different shades of green lines at the top of the Mihrab. Unfortunately, it needs a lot of restoration and cleaning. The Minbar on the other side is in a good state and it was made of fine wood pieces with geometric decorations. Along the top of its doorway is the classic statement of Islam,, There is no god except Allah and Mohamed is the prophet of Allah.
The mosque has an attractive ceiling that is mainly made of redwood. Under this redwood, there are strips of colored, decorated wood. Interestingly, the ceiling of this mosque does not have a dome like most mosques in Cairo. The ceiling is just a large frame of decorated wood, which is very unusual for any Egyptian mosque.
Terbana Mosque is a perfect example of Islamic Ottoman art in Alexandria, and it is one of only a very few ancient mosques remaining in Alexandria. The considerable size of the mosque and its rich decorations attests to the large number of Muslims and pilgrims in Alexandria at the time of its erection.
Yet, in many ways, this mosque has been ignored. One cannot guess that it is such a historical mosque from the stores beneath it, and interestingly, there was not a single sign that signaled its historical importance. Indeed, it was difficult to locate for this reason. Yet, it is a beautiful mosque to visit, and very unique, though at the same time it could use some government attention.