Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ahmad Ibn Tulun Mosque

The Ibn Tulun Mosque was completed in 879 AD on Mount Yashkur in a settlement called al-Qata'i by Tulunid founder of the dynasty of Egypt (868-905 AD), Ahmad ibn Tulun. Al-Qata'i was about two kilometers from the old community of Fustat. He was born in Baghdad, the son of a Turkish slave of Mongol origin owned by the Caliph al-Ma'mun. Later, he will rise to become governor of Egypt after his stepfather, who died in 870, was awarded this position. 
The mosque that was built over a period of three years of mudbrick became the focal point of the Tulunid capital that lasted only 26 years. It was the third congregational mosque to be built in what is now greater Cairo, and about 26,318 square meters, is the third largest mosque in the world. It is the oldest mosque in Egypt that has survived in a fairly original form. An old Kufic calligraphy in the 9th century states: "The Emir ... ordered the construction of this blessed and happy mosque, using the revenues from a pure and proper that God has given him ... "source.
When the center of the city has moved to what would become Cairo proper, away from al-Qata'a the mosque fell into disuse. It was damaged when used as a shelter for pilgrims from North Africa to the Hijaz in the 12th c., But restored and refounded with madrasa-type functions of 'Alam al-Din Sanjar al-Dawadar at the request of the Mamluk Sultan Lajin in 1296. (Lajin was an accomplice in the assassination of Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil ibn Qalawun, and while hiding in the deserted mosque, he is committed to restoring should escape). It has also been restored in subsequent periods, and is in fact being restored again today. This mosque is one of the most ancient Egypt, as well as a popular tourist attraction. The Ibn Tulun mosque reflects all the features of Abbasid art in the field of architecture, and was obviously influenced, particularly with regard to the minaret, the great rectangular piers with engaged corner columns, the decorative motif and other characteristics of the famous Mosque of Samarra in Iraq today. 
 The mosque is surrounded by an enclosure that measures 118 x 138 meters (387 x 453 feet). Surrounding the mosque on three sides (all except the qibla side) are narrow enclosed wings called ziyadas and famous mosque minaret with its external spiral ramp is located in the north Ziyada. These small outer courtyards were an extension to insure privacy and separate the sanctified space from the public space of the outside world. They measure about 19 meters wide, and bring the mosque as a whole almost to an exact square. Both walls and fence walls Ziyada are topped with a unique niche, a fortified parapet alternating solid parts and openings, it is probably also of Samarra influence. However, the walls lack the heavy external buttresses and so were probably built strictly as a decorative motif. Instead, the single row of large windows with circular openings on the upper registers of the walls, the frieze of simple square frames and decorative aliasing seems almost delicate.

This minaret, with its only remaining original element being the square base, communicates with the mosque through a passage. Its second floor is cylindrical which is in tern surmounted by later restorations Mumluk in stone. The minaret was built of brick. Only Cairo minaret with an external spiral staircase and the overall structure is unique in Egypt.
Five traditional transverse aisles on the qibla side of the courtyard, which are separated by the strong pillars of the arcades. There are 13 arches on each side of the court. Although columns are brick, decorative capitals and bases were modeled from wet plaster. The arches themselves are generally not completely round, but rather pointed at their peak, and high in the spandrels of the arches are small windows that allow for both traffic inside the mosque, and help light the arcades. The fountain (sahn), which was a later addition built by Sultan Ladjin is surrounded by double arcades on three sides. However, Ibn Duqmaq described the original structure, which was apparently very similar to Samarra but was destroyed by fire in 986, that "the Fawwara who was in the middle of the courtyard had windows on all sides, and it was more of a golden dome ten marble columns, and around it were sixteen marble columns with a marble pavement.
And under the dome was a great basin of marble, 4 cubits in diameter with a fountain in the center ... and on the roof was a sundial. The roof had a railing around it teak (SAJ). "Al-Mustawfi said he was known as" Pharaoh's Cup "(Kas-i-Pharaoh) and its basin was formed from a block of stone 23 cubits circumference, standing to a height of seven cubits and half a cubit thick. The prayer hall had a flat wooden roof and within the mihrab bay, apparently restored during the Mamluk period, was accented by a wooden dome. From each side of the mihrab were two columns with perforated capitals. The inner column on each side is in the form of a basket, while the outer capital is decorated with vine leaves and branches of grapes detached from the rear background. The mihrab on a pier overlooking the courtyard is attributed to the Fatimid vizier, Al-Afdal (circa 1007 AD).
Behind the qibla wall, which interestingly a somewhat different direction, then the other mosques of Cairo, was the Dar al-Imara consisting of three rooms connected to the mosque by doors on either side of the mihrab. This area was used in the Fatimid period for administration, and perhaps housed a library, but it also gave access to maqsura, a private area used by the Caliph, his relatives and his family during Friday prayers. Original decorations of the mosque, with both stucco and wood of the richest and best preserved examples of the Samarra style, are of considerable importance from the point of view of Islamic / art history. The stucco decorations are both inside and outside the mosque, and soffits of the arches were decorated with bands of stucco decoration, even if they have been fully restored. However, a number of them have survived in their original state, revealing a band with geometric floral filling. The inner arcades present a frieze of floral decoration that runs around the arches and above the arches Kufic inscriptions from the Koran are supposed to work some two kilometers (6,600 feet).
Interestingly, stories claim that the frieze was believed to have been carved on the boards of Noah's Ark 128 windows grills exterior walls of the mosque also involve complex geometric patterns of stucco, with each model variant other . As a final note, the recent restoration work on the Ibn Tulun Mosque is probably the most analyzed and discussed. Some oppose any restoration of this monument 1,100 years old, while others believe that the work is pressed, and not properly supervised. Some of the criticism has apparently led to improvements in the process, then we'll just wait and see how the latest effort evolves.

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