The Mosque of Mohamed Ali
The Mohamed Ali Mosque, or the Alabaster Mosque, is one of Egypt’s most interesting mosques. It stands proudly on the highest point inside the Citadel of Saladin’s courtyard. The architect, Yousif Boushnaq, was a Turkish man who had come over from Istanbul, solely to build this great mosque for Mohamed Ali, the ruler of Egypt from 1805 until 1849.
He designed his plans, based on the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, and the construction began in 1830 A.D. The work continued ceaselessly until the death of Mohamed Ali in 1849 and was restarted and finished during the reign of his successors. Mohamed Ali was buried in a tomb situated on the south-eastern side of Beit Al Salah, on the right side of the entrance leading to the main section.
In 1899, the Mosque showed signs of cracking and repairs were undertaken, but some of these repairs were not adequate. Therefore, in 1931, during the reign of King Fuad I, a committee was set up, comprising of several great architects, which eventually presented a report recommending a huge change, They wanted the demolition of the big main dome, the semi-domes, and the small domes, and then reconstructing them according to the original design. Between 1931 and 1939, the project, including demolition, building, and rebuilding, painting, and gilding, was undertaken; the total cost being 100,000 LE (about $560.00 USD).
The main material used for the construction was limestone, but the lower parts of the Mosque and the forecourt are faced to a height of 11.5m with alabaster. When it was complete it was a marvel to behold.
The Mosque is rectangular in shape and consists of two sections:
The Western Section called the “Sahn” “or “Courtyard”.
The Eastern Section or main section called The “Beit al-Salah” or “House of Prayer”.
The eastern section is the part that was dedicated to prayer. It is square in shape, each side measuring 41m, and has a roof with a central dome (52m in height) resting on four large arches supported by massive piers. Surrounding the big central dome there are four half domes, while there are four more small domes covering the corners.
The marble mihrab is covered by a half-dome at the lower level. The domes are pointed and covered with medallions and other motifs. The interior dome is impressive because of its size and shape, similar to the Mosques of Istanbul. There are 6 medallions around the dome, which include the names of Allah (God) and Mohamed (the Prophet), as well as the names of the four rightly guided Caliphs, namely Abou Bakr, Omar, Othman, and Ali.
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The mosque has 2 Minbars or pulpits; the original one is larger and made of wood decorated with gilded ornaments, while the smaller one is of marble; it was gifted to the mosque by King Farouk in 1939 A.D.
Above the entrance is a grand gallery supported on marble pillars with a stunning bronze balustrade. To the right of the entrance is the white marble tomb of Mohamed Ali, adorned with floral motifs and pointed and gilded inscriptions. Originally, Mohamed Ali was not buried in his mosque. Later, though, during the time king Abbas I (1849-1854), his body was transferred from Housh El Basha to the inside of the mosque where it rests inside the bronze grill.
The Western Section (The Courtyard or the Sahn)
This large open courtyard is about 54 m in length and 53 m in width, surrounded by a single arched riwaq, and showcases naves raised on pillars and roofed with small domes.
In the middle of the courtyard, there is the octagonal ablution fountain covered by a large leaded domed canopy resting on 8 pillars with natural ornaments. This type of fountain was created for sacred washing during religious ceremonies. Inside the dome is another smaller one. In the walls of the courtyard riwaqs, there are 46 windows. While the Eastern wall has 8 windows, that include a frieze of an inscription of the Koran (Surat Al Fath),
Above the entrance to the eastern section, there is frieze, a scuplted decoration, that bears the name of the Turkish sultan Abd Al Maguid.
Opposite to the doorway of the prayer House, at the far end of the center of the NW riwaq is a pavilion, above which is an elaborate French Clock, presented to Mohamed Ali in 1845 by the France, specifically King Luis Philip, in exchange of the obelisk which is now standing in the Concorde square in Paris. Interestingly enough, the clock has never worked properly.
At the west and the North Corners are 2 slender octagonal minarets that rise to 82 M in height and they both feature 2 balconies.