When approaching the Sultan Hassan mosque from the direction of the Citadel, the structure appears enormous, which is not strange: it measures 150 metres long and 36 high, while its highest minaret is almost 70 metres. The mosque is an example of Mamluk architecture, its exterior quite simple and impressive mostly because of its size. Sultan Hassan had the mosque constructed in the mid-14th century; it was paid for largely by the victims of the Black Death that was raging the city at the time. The sultan's fame was therefore not positive, and he was murdered before the mosque was ever completed. Since his body disappeared and was never found again, the mausoleum of the mosque holds the remains of his two sons.
Like entering opposite ar-Rifai mosque, Sultan Hassan mosque overwhelms the visitor who enters through its enormous gate. Looking up, you see daylight coming in high above in a large dome. From here, a zig-zag corridor takes you to the sahn or inner courtyard. Here, you enter a different world: one defined by the wooden dome over the ablution fountain, a later addition to the mosque, and four spaces or iwans on all sides of the courtyard where all four schools of Sunni thought of Islam could pray in their own area. In fact, they are diversified by different colour carpets on the floor. The floor of the courtyard itself is made of marble. The highest minaret is visible from one corner of the courtyard. The second minaret collapsed during construction, killing hundreds of people, and was replaced by a smaller one. The ceilings of the iwans are very high and make the visitor, or the believer, feel minuscule. Behind them, there are four madrassas, one for each sect of Sunni Islam.
The qibla iwan, facing the direction of Mecca, is the largest vaulted hall of the medieval Islamic world. Its obvious centrepiece is a marvellous mihrab or niche, with layered multicolour marble and gold decoration, and gilded columns on its side, probably indicating they were taken from Crusader buildings in Palestine as a trophy. Above, on long chains from the ceiling, are many lamps, somehow giving an imaginary ceiling to this vast space. Around this iwan is a band of calligraphy in Kufic letters depicting Quranic verses. There are several intricately carved bronze doors in this iwan, one of them leading to the mausoleum where, since the body of the sultan himself was never found, holds the remains of his sons instead. The mausoleum is wonderful in a different way: the tombs are centrally placed, further accentuated by the circular lamps above them, with light leaking in through windows in the wall and the decorated dome high above. It would have been the perfect place for Sultan Hassan himself to be buried.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Sultan Hassan mosque (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Sultan Hassan mosque.
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