Muhammad Ali Mosque

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mosque commissioned by muhammad ali for cairo's citadel.

By its size and hilltop location, the Muhammad Ali Mosque at the Citadel dominates the Cairo skyline. As early as 1820, Muhammad Ali of Egypt asked French architect Pascal Coste to draw up plans for mosques in the Citadel and at Alexandria. Coste's plan was not used, however, when construction began in the early 1830s, just as Muhammad Ali was challenging his Ottoman overlord by invading Syria. Turning his back on local Mamluk-influenced architectural styles that had persisted through three centuries of rule by the Ottoman Empire, Muhammad Ali symbolized his ambitions by appropriating the style of great Ottoman mosques of Constantinople (now Istanbul). Sultan Ahmet's Blue Mosque, the Nuru Osmaniye, and the Yeni mosques have all been cited as influencing Yusuf Bushnaq, the Greek architect brought from Constantinople to construct the mosque. Its embellishments are in the baroque-rococo style in vogue in Constantinople in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The mosque also symbolized Muhammad Ali's victory over the Mamluks, whom he had murdered in the Citadel in 1811. Dominating the citadel founded by Salah al-Din (known as Saladin [11371193]), it rose on the leveled ruins of the Qasr al-Ablaq (Striped Palace) of al-Nasir Muhammad, the Mamluk sultan whose mosque stands nearby.

The mosque is built of local Muqattam limestone, with columns and sheathing of alabastera stone softer than marble previously used mainly for vases and other small objectsfrom a quarry near Bani Suwayf. The mosque was completed in 1857 under Saʿid Pasha. Colonnades topped with small domes bound its open courtyard. The side opposite the great dome has a clock tower with an ornate timepiece presented by King Louis-Philippe of France; Muhammad Ali returned the favor with the obelisk now standing in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Two slender Ottoman minarets rise 270 feet (82 m) on square bases only 10 feet (3 m) on a side. The great Byzantine Ottoman dome rests on four arches with four massive piers. Four half-domes lead out of the arches, four smaller domes fill in the corners, and a lower half-dome tops the mihrab (the niche at the east end of the mosque pointing to Mecca). Above the alabaster sheathing, the interior walls and domes are ornately painted. Muhammad Ali is buried beneath a marble monument to the right of the entrance, behind a bronze grill. Hundreds of lights hang from the ceiling on great chandeliers. Muhammad Ali's Jawhara (Bijou) Palace stands nearby.

The Muhammad Ali Mosque lacked local successors as well as local antecedents. In the second half of the nineteenth century, either Western or eclectic Mamluk-revival styles were preferred for major Egyptian buildings.

see also muhammad ali; sultan ahmet mosque.


Egypt. Blue Guide series. London: Benn, 1984.

donald malcolm reid

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Muhammad Ali Mosque

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