The al-Aqmar Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Cairo. The nearly 900-year-old place of worship, located on al-Muizz Street which is known to be one of the most vibrant and picturesque parts of Cairo, is now open for visitors again. Following a 10-month renovation funded by leaders of the Shiite Bohra community, the al-Aqmar Mosque is one of the several historic Islamic sites being developed in the city's Islamic quarter by the group.
As confirmed by Egypt's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the renovation of al-Aqmar Mosque, a historic landmark, was successfully carried out at approximately 14 million Egyptian pounds (equivalent to INR 3,74,26,590). The comprehensive project encompassed the meticulous cleaning of years of accumulated dirt and soot from the mosque's exterior, restoring its original splendour.
The restoration effort extended to the mosque's facades, where inscriptions were meticulously reworked. These inscriptions adorned both the fading stone surfaces and the marble walls of the mosque, breathing new life into its intricate detailing.
Known for its remarkable exterior designs, al-Aqmar Mosque holds a significant place in Cairo's architectural heritage, particularly as a prominent Fatimid site. In addition to the exterior, the mosque's marble columns underwent a thorough cleaning, while its wooden elements received preservation and reinforcement. Practical enhancements were also made, such as adding mesh to the windows to prevent bird entry and the accumulation of soot. A protective balustrade now graces the roof, and the dome has been reinforced, ensuring the enduring preservation of this treasured structure.
Situated on al-Muizz Street, where some of the greatest Islamic sights of Cairo are, the al-Aqmar Mosque was commissioned by the Fatimid Caliph al-Amir bi-Ahkam Allah in the year 519 AH (1125 AD). The meticulous construction of the mosque was overseen by Vizier al-Ma'mun al-Bata'ihi. Later, during the reign of Sultan Barquq, in 799 AH (1397 AD), the mosque underwent a renewal process under the watchful eye of Prince Yalbugha al-Salmi, signifying its enduring historical significance and architectural heritage.
The al-Aqmar Mosque boasts a main façade that stands as a testament to its historical significance, being one of Egypt's oldest surviving stone façades. Its architectural charm is exemplified through intricate stone carvings featuring the recurring phrase "Muhammad and Ali," interwoven with Qur'anic verses inscribed in the Kufic script. Remarkably, the architect ingeniously aligned the façade with the street's orientation while maintaining the internal direction of prayer.
During the twentieth century, the design of the Coptic Museum's façade drew inspiration from the aesthetics of the al-Aqmar Mosque. The museum's façade incorporated Biblical verses and Christian iconography, showcasing the cross-cultural influence of this architectural marvel.
Structured around an open courtyard, the mosque is surrounded by four arcades, each topped with shallow domes. The largest dome, situated atop the qibla (direction of Kaaba), demarcates the direction of prayer. An inscription above the mihrab (chamber in a mosque indicating the direction of Mecca) commemorates the renovations overseen by Yalbugha al-Salmi, further highlighting the mosque's historical evolution.
The mosque's interior spans 28 x 17.50 metres, encompassing four roofed sections bordered by columns, encircling a spacious courtyard measuring 10 metres in length on one side. The qibla section features three arcades, distinguished by its greater depth, while the other three sections contain a singular colonnade, each with brick arches. Aside from the one preceding the mihrab, these arches are adorned with shallow brick domes, enhancing the mosque's visual appeal and architectural finesse.
The al-Aqmar Mosque is a testament to Egypt's rich architectural heritage and cultural interplay. Its intricate carvings, alignment with urban layout, and historic evolution make it a remarkable symbol of artistic prowess and religious devotion through the ages.
Getting there: The mosque is easily accessible by car or on foot and is 30 minutes from the Cairo International Airport.
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm
Days: All days of the week
Entry fee: Free