Al-Hakim Mosque, Cairo

The Mosque of al-Hakim, abutting the Northern Walls, commemorates one of Egypt’s most notorious rulers. Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah was only 11 years old when he became the 6th Fatimid caliph, and 15 when he had his tutor murdered. His reign (996-1021) was characterized by the persecutions of Christians, Jews, and merchants, and by rabid misogyny: he forbade women to leave their homes and once had a group of noisy females boiled alive in a public bath. Merchants found guilty of cheating during Al-Hakim’s inspections were summarily sodomized by his Nubian slave, Masoud, while the caliph stood upon their heads.



The mosque was thereafter shunned or used for profane purpose until 1980, when it was restored by a group of Bohara Isma’ili Shi’ites from India who have dedicated themselves to looking after Cairo’s Fatimid mosques. Their addition of brass lamps, glass chandeliers and a new mihrab outraged purist, but the original wooden tie-beams and stucco frieze beneath the ceiling remain. From the roof, you can gaze over Bab el-Nasr Cemetery and admire the mosque’s minarets, which resemble bastions and are its only original features. One advantage of modernization is the courtyard has some degree of wheelchair access ( via the side door, to the left of the main one; you’ll need to get someone to open it for you).

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