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Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo ,Egypt

Al-Azhar is the first mosque built in the southeast of Cairo in Egypt, and it is the first mosque built in Cairo in the Fatimid era. Al-Azhar Mosque was the first theological college that was played a important role in the religious and political life of Egypt. Its construction dates back to the beginning of the era of the Fatimid period in Egypt. Al-Azhar was the oldest university in the Egypt and world . This only mosque does not carry or bear the name of its founder, but it was called Azhar which means the flourishing. the mosque was founded by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Muaiz and his vizier Jawhar Al-Siqillli.

 Within 27 months, Jawhar Al-Siqilli completed the construction of Al-Azhar Mosque and the first prayers were held in the mosque in 362 A.H.  Al-Azhar Mosque was a collage with the appointment of 35 scholars to teach Muslim theology.  After the Ottoman conquest, The Mamluk colleges were in decline and drop, So that , Al-Azhar became the center of  Islamic scholarship in Egypt and one of the best theological universities of the Muslim world. Because of importance and value of  Al-Azhar mosque like the mosque of Amr Ibn Al-As , has alot of enlargements and restorations through the different ages.

Al-Azhar Mosque ,Cairo ,Egypt

The original mosque

The original mosque (Al-Azhar) was much smaller than the present one, but alot of enlargements and restorations  happened in the mosque through the different agesThe original mosque consisted of an open courtyard surrounded with 3 riwaqs ( an element of Islamic architecture). This plan was common in many mosques, North African and Andalusian architecture. The qibla riwaq contains 5 aisles parallel to the qibla and a transept. It consists of two rows of columns and arches perpendicular to the qibla wall. That means the transept was an aisle wider and higher than the rest and ending at the prayer niche. The qibla riwaq also contained 3 domes ,two at the corners of the qibla riwaq & one over the prayer niche , but none of them have survived. This feature of three domes was also found in North African architecture and was introduced to Egypt by the Fatimids.

The original minaret of Al-Azhar Mosque was small standing above the main entrance of mosque, but it didn't survive. Some decorations of the original mosque have survived,such as the conch of the prayer niche was decorated with scrolls of palmettes  and curved Kufic script frames the arch of the prayer niche. Windows were also decorated with geometric grills and were framed with Kufic inscriptions.

Fatimid additions :

1- The Caliph Al-Hakim restored the mosque and added a new wooden door in In 400A.H. (this door ,now in the Islamic Art Museum). 

2-Caliph Al-Hafiz added an arcade around the courtyard that composed of only one aisle ( the mosque become had 4 arcades). Al-Hafiz, also added a dome in front of the transept.  the Qibla riwaq dome is richly decorated in carved stucco. The dome rests on four squinches alternating with windows made up of stucco grills. The interior of the dome is decorated with bands of kufic inscription and bands of arabesque (palmettes, stalks, leaves and fruits) all carved on stucco. 

3-The Fatimid mihrab also survived. It is set in a frame of finely chiseled kufic inscriptions. The conch of the mihrab is decorated with scrolled pattern of palmettes entwining a five-lobed palmette surrounded by a bulbous chalice. 

Ayyubid and Mamluk additions and restorations :

1- When Salah al-Din Al-Ayyubii (followed the Shafiicia ) overthrew the Fatimid dynasty, Al-Azhar status as a congregational mosque was reduced as Salah al-Din ordered to cancel the Friday prayer at al- Azhar and permitted it at al-Hakim mos.

 2- Al-Zahir Baybars reestablished the Friday sermon at Al-Azhar in 665 A.H. &Al-Zahir Baybars also replaced the minaret at the entrance with a higher one. The role of the mosque as a center of learning was re-established and extended.

 3- During the reign of Sultan al-Naser Mohamed, 2 madrasas were added to al-Azhar. The first one was built  by Amir Taybars ( in 709 A.H). It was situated on the right side of the main entrance of the mosque.  Amir Aqbugha built another madrasa on the left side of the entrance. This madrasa still has its original entrance, minaret and qibla wall. 

4- Sultan Barquq replaced the minaret of the mosque with a taller one that was made of stone, but it was destroyed few years later. Sultan al-Muayyad built another minaret in the same place of the minaret of Sultan Barquq , but it was also destroyed.

 5-  Amir Jawhar al Qabqabai  built a third madrasa on the north side of the qibla in 844 A.H.  It's fully preserved in its original form and decorations. 

6- Sultan Qaytbay ordered several restorations in Al-Azhar & restored the main entrance of the mosque, and it was richly decorated then he built a minaret above it. It's one of the finest & greatest examples of Islamic architecture in Cairo.

 7- Sultan Al-Ghurii ,also built a minaret near that of Qaytbay, It's famous for its double bulb and unique shape.

The Ottoman additions and restorations :

1- Amir  Abd Al-Rahman Katkhuda :
He added a new facade with an entrance called "Bab al-Mezayyinin" to the mosque. this door is a double entrance surmounted with two semi-circular arches, surmounted with rectangular panels decorated with cypress trees in the Ottoman style.
 The upper part of the door is decorated with a band of gilded inscriptions. 

- Amir  Abd Al-Rahman also enlarged the mosque
& adding a new riwaq that has a new mihrab and a wooden minbar with three aisles behind the original riwaq.  

At the right  end of the new riwaq (the southeastern corner of Al-Azhar Mosque Amir  Abd Al-Rahman Katkhuda opened a portal to the mosque called "Bab al Saada". Beside it he built himself a mausoleum dome and a minaret. On the eastern wall also, he opened another door called "Bab al Shorba" which was close to the kitchen where meals were provided to students.