Sultan Hassan Mosque in Cairo

The Mosque of Sultan Hassan was unprecedentedly huge in scale when it was begun in 1356, and some design flaws soon became apparent. The mosque is big enough to withstand a lot of battering: at 150m in length, it covers an area of 7906 square meters, with walls rising to 36m and its tallest minaret to 68m.

The mosque is best seen when the morning sun illuminate its deep courtyard and cavernous mausoleum, revealing subtle colors and textures disguised by shadows later in the day. Entering beneath a towering stalactite hood, you’re drawn by instinct through a gloomy domed vestibule with liwans, out into the four sides, their height emphasized by hanging lamp chains, their maws by red-and-black rims, all set off by a bulbous-domed ablution fountain. Each liwan was devoted to teaching a rite of Sunni Islam, providing theological justification for the cruciform plan the Mamlukes strove to achieve regardless of the site. At Sultan Hassan, four madarassas have been skillfully fitted into an irregular area behind the liwans to maintain the internal cruciform.

Soft-huted marble inlay and a band of monumental Kufic script distinguished the sanctuary liwan from its roughly plastered neighbours. To the right of the mihrab is a bronze door, exquisitely worked with radiating stars and satellites in gold and silver; on the other side is Hassan’s mausoleum, cleverly sited to derive Baraka from prayers to Mecca while overlooking his old stomping grounds. The mausoleum is somber beneath its restored dome, upheld by stalactite pendentives. Around the chamber runs a carved and painted Thuluth inscription, from the Throne verse of the Quran. Note also the ivory-inlaid “kursi”, or koranic lectern.

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