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Notes on the Geography of Egypt: Historic Cairo 3

This third group of pictures begins with the citadel and then explores several buildings either near it or on the main road leading to the citadel from the old city's southern gate, the Bab Zawayla.

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(No. U51)Here's the citadel wall near the principal entrance today, the Bab al-Gabal. Most of the citadel's walls were built by Salah al-Din, but Yakan Pasha, an Ottoman governor, built this part in 1786, except for the parapet, added by Muhammad 'Ali. The wall was cleared of rubbish in 1923 and is now anachronistically landscaped.

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Up top, a fountain near Muhammad 'Ali's Gawhara, or Jewel, Palace, built in 1814.

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(No. 505) Most of the palace can't be seen, but here's Muhammad Ali's throne, designed for a man--he was Albanian--who didn't like chairs.

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European furniture on display.

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Bedroom.

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(No. 503) Need some fresh air? Here's the Mosque of Muhammad 'Ali, built in 1848 on a site squared up with masonry taken from the palace of al-Nasir Muhammad. The mosque was designed by a Greek architect, which makes perfect sense since it is obviously copied from the mosques of Istanbul, where the archetype is the Hagia Sophia, also designed by Greeks.

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The outside of the dome is grim, but the inside is gorgeous, with a 52-meter-high dome resting on piers with 4 semi-domes.

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Outside there's this courtyard with a fountain and an absurd clocktower given by Louis Philippe in 1845. Absurd? Well, maybe no more absurd than the clocks that deface qibla walls across the Muslim world.

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The ablutions fountain could hardly be gaudier.

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(No. 143) In contrast, here's the nearby Mosque of al-Nasir Muhammad, from 1318. The dome is a restoration from 1935, and much of the original marble was hauled off to Istanbul after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt. Still, the mosque is a study in serenity.

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Not that al-Nasir Muhammad's architects weren't beyond salvaging columns where they could find them and putting them up without the least worry whether they matched.

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Thick, thin; tall, short; light, dark: it made no matter to them, and in truth it matters not today, either.

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A medley of capitals.

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The mihrab is from 1935, and the coffered ceiling was originally painted blue and gold.

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(Nos. 133 and U103) We're at the edge of the citadel, looking west over its high wall to two buildings. The one on the left is the Madrasa of Sultan Hasan, built in 1356-62 by a son of al-Nasir Muhammad. The dome is from the 17th century; the taller minaret is original but the shorter one is an Ottoman replacement for a minaret that collapsed in 1659. On the right is the recent Mosque of Sidi Ahmad al-Rifa'i, built in 1869-1911 under the direction of Husayn Pasha Fahmy and then by Max Herz, a German who spent many years in Cairo. The older building was once surrounded by smaller buildings, but they've been cleared away.

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(No. 555) This is the Bab al-'Azab, built in 1754 by Radwan Katkhuda to go from the citadel to the city. It's opposite the two buildings in the previous picture.

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Scenic view from the gate to the mosques. It does raise a question about just how dirty the old city was.

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Some more handiwork of the highway engineers.

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Here's the new mosque, an homage to the old.

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Entrance to Sultan Husan.

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Inside, a cruciform plan with four iwans for the four schools; the polychrome marble floor are 19th century improvements. The tomb lies through the door in the background.

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Before we go inside, here's the original polychrome marble mihrab with dado and a kufic inscription band next to a stone minbar, or pulpit.

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The tomb, with its own mihrab.

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Above, the dome with muqarna squinches of wood.

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The outside of the building, with windows indicating the cells once occupied by students; in the distance, the Mosque of Muhammad 'Ali.

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(No. 114) We've moved. We're now over by the Bab Zuwayla. If we had left that gate and turned left, we would have come here, to the Mosque of Qagmas al-Ishaqi, which was built in 1480 but is known also as the Mosque of Shaykh Abu Hurayra from a 19th century burial. The mosque, build by one of Qaytbay's amirs, occupies a triangular lot. Short of space, the builders added a bridge from the mosque to an ablutions court, here on the left.

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Here's the corner of the triangular site; street level has risen over the centuries.

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Doors once at street level are now several steps beneath it.

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The mosque's entrance. Expecting much?

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After the shabby outside, the inside is a shock. It was heavily restored in 1896.

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The interior skylight.

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(No. 120) Up the street a minute's walk is the Mosque of al-Maridani, built 1337-39 by an amir who was another of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad's many sons-in-law.

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Perhaps because a street once ran through the mosque, the arcaded qibla wall is heavily screened. The arcade was rebuilt in 1900.

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The mihrab has all the trimmings of a junkshop.

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Relaxing in the courtyard. The fountain was transferred here in 1900 from the madrasa of Sultan Hasan.

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(Nos. 235 and 125) Still farther up the street, the Madrasa of Umm al-Sultan Sha'ban and the House of Ahmad Katkhuda al-Razzaz, nearing the end of a massive restoration project undertaken by the Aga Khan Foundation. Umm al-Sultan was a daughter-in-law of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad.

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(No. 123) And still farther: the entrance to the Mosque, built in 1346, of Aqsunqur, the "White Falcon."

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The courtyard. Aqsunqur was another son-in-law of Sultan an-Nasir Muhammad.

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The Iznik tiles were added in 1652 by Ibrahim Agha Mustahfizan and account for the mosque's nickname of Blue Mosque.

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Compared to the walls of Istanbul's blue mosques, this one is singularly crude.

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The minaret, originally with 4 tiers but rebuilt with 3, is open. Shall we?

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Whoops!

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In warm weather, you can't beat the roof.

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We're looking over the mosque; immediately behind it is the Ayyubid wall, built in 1171-76.

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Here's the view back into the city, with the mosque of Umm al-Sultan Sha'ban on the left.

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(No. 248) The view is toward the citadel; the minaret in the foreground belongs to the Mosque of Khayrbak, built in 1502 by a mamluk of Qaytbay who betrayed Sultan al-Ghuri to the Ottomans and was rewarded by being appointed the first Ottoman governor.


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