Courtyard of the Mosque of Ibn Tūlūn

Courtyard and Minaret of the Mosque of Ibn Tūlūn, June 27, 1994

One of the oldest mosques in Cairo, Ahmad ibn Tūlūn's mosque in Cairo has also survived the many conquests and earthquakes that have affected Cairo, due largely to its being built with support to the bedrock. Ibn Tūlūn was sent by the `Abbāsid caliphs to serve as the governor of al-Fustāt in 868 and then all of Egypt in 870. He soon began withholding tribute from the caliphate and became independent, building his own capital, al-Qatā`i, and its massive congregational mosque (876-79). When the `Abbāsids recaptured Egypt from Ibn Tūlūn's ineffectual descendants in 905, they destoyed all of his city except the grand mosque.

The mosque is one of the few surviving examples of the archtecture of the classical Islāmic, and in particular `Abbāsid, era. The mosque was conscioulsy patterned on, and built to rival, the congregational mosque of the caliphal capital of Samarra. The spiral minaret, seen here through one of the arches of the prayer hall, clearly evokes its much larger forebearer at Samarra. At one time there was also a small ship of treasure sitting on top of the minaret. The crenellations appear to resemble a series of men, perhaps symbolic of Ibn Tūlūn's dispute with the caliphs. While it has fallen on hard times in the past, this vast mosque has always been lovingly restored by suceeding generations and is still an awe-inspiring edifice for any visitor to Cairo.


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