Saturday, June 8, 2013

El-Aqmar Mosque

At the heart of the Fatimid city, north of the site once occupied by the great Fatimid palace stands a small but important mosque known as al-Aqmar, which means "Moonlight", sometimes also known as name Gray Mosque. It was founded by al-Ma'mun Bata'ihi during the caliphate of al-Mustansir. It was built at a time of great political and spiritual crises for the Fatimid regime. It is located on the main artery of the city. In the plan, it is a regular rectangular hypostyle mosque with a square courtyard. This is essentially the plan of a small mosque congregation.

This structure is of major importance for the architecture of Cairo for several reasons. First, it is one of the seminal monuments in the architectural history of Cairo, is the first mosque with an entry that is not on an axis with the qibla wall. Here, the facade follows the line of the street, while the qibla wall is oriented towards Mecca. It is the first example of a mosque in Cairo with a ground plane adapted to an existing urban street level, a phenomenon that in the centuries that followed was more frequent and complex. Here, the plan is quite simple. Essentially inside has a regular arrangement with the exception that the front wall is thicker on one end than the other. In the thickest part of the wall, a hallway, a staircase and two rooms opening inward part were built.

It is also the first mosque in Cairo to have a facade decorated stone. The facade is brick faced with stone. A wing to the right of the entry salient which the equilibrium to the left, has been covered by a house later. However, in the 1980s, a restoration by the Indian sect Bohara unveiled the hidden part and returned the facade of its balanced proportions of origin.

The middle of the tripartite composition is dominated by a protruding portal decorated with a large bow keel niche carved with radiating from a central medallion grooves like a sunrise or shell motif. The medallion is named Muhammad repeated in a circular tracery forming a circle, with the name of Ali in the center, while Kufic and drilled through the stone. All this is surrounded by a circle of arabesque and Kufic breakthrough, with a final circular band decorated with interlacing scrolls. The engraving and drilling shows both skill and perfection.

 Hood ribbed shell protruding from the entrance, with its pierced medallion, appears here for the first time, and was the prototype of all later cusped, ribbed, blind decoration keel-arch remains somewhat popular on buildings Cairo.

The niches on either side of the entrance are each crowned with four rows of stalactites. Set back inside they are both smaller, each with small molds half-dome. Above these are two small niches, each with a fluted hood, supported by two columns involved. The stalactites are the first introduction of this element in the design of a facade.

 To the left of the portal another shallow nests repeat the sunrise or shell motif with a medallion in the center. Above, a clear circular cut in the stone reveals the brick wall, which indicates a medallion once existed. Two tablets, one with geometric sculpture and the other with a vase and plant motif, are overcome on both sides of the coin missing by two strange carved panels. The right is a closed door, close the door of al-Hakim (now the Islamic Museum), and the left shows a niche with a geometric grid that resembles a window. Its top hangs a lamp.

 Undoubtedly, the al-Aqmar mosque has a highly symbolic meaning in a Shi'ite context. The two plants standing in the vase has been interpreted as symbolic of Hasan and Husayn, son of Caliph Ali by his wife Fatima. This model is also often repeated in the Coptic Christian art, with numerous examples exist in the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo. Niches with hanging lamp and the door closed placed symmetrically on either side of the medallion may be missing more than just decoration.

There are three inscription bands that run along the front. The first summit, contains the name of Al-Amir bi-Ahkam-Allah and next to it is the name of his Wazir (minister) Mamun al Bata'ihi with its title and date of foundation. The second works in the birth of the entrance arch. It also contains the names of al-Ma'mun and titles and date of foundation. This mode, the combination of the names and titles of caliph (leader) and Wazir, shows what influence the Ministers of State had reached the end of the period of the Fatimids. The third band runs at the door lintel and only contains verses from the Quran.

Another feature of the facade is a beveled corner engraved with the names of Muhammad and Ali.

The original minaret did not survive. We can see the amount left door of the portal of the circular base of the minaret built in the late fourteenth century by Amir al-Salami Yalbugha. It is a brick building covered with stucco molding and sculpture chevron patterns of open work and a cornice of stalactites. Above the balcony, the structure is still later date.

 The interior of the mosque has not retained much of its original form. The small sanctuary has three naves and overlooks the courtyard with only a triple arcade. A fine example of Fatimid wood carving in situ with its arabesque ornament panels can be seen on the closet door on the northwest side of the sanctuary. The other three arches have only one lane each. Bands verse in Kufic script on a background arabesque still survive around the ogee arches of the courtyard, which are supported by marble columns. The ogee arches do not appear in Egypt until the end of the Fatimid period, and were first seen in the dome of Sheikh Ynis, attributed to Al-Badar Gamali. Here, the spandrels are decorated with shallow saucers composed of eight radiating from a central medallion ribs.

A feature of the interior design is the ceiling of each bay is covered by a shallow dome bricks, instead of being flat, with the exception of the aisle parallel to the qibla wall, which is wider and the rest is covered by a flat wooden ceiling. The mosque was in ruins when the Mamluk Yalbugha Amir al-Salami, during the reign of Sultan al Zahir Barquq, restored in 1396/97 (799H), some researchers assume that also restored the ceiling, which could was originally flat. This type of ceiling is not known to the Fatimid period, but is used in the early fifteenth century mosque Faraj Ibn Barquq.

Yalbugha al-Salami also restored the minbar, which is nevertheless retains its Fatimid ornament, which can be seen on the entrance arch and rear seat speaker.

Except for some wood carving on the beams and doors and a registration stucco and strip some of the arches, nothing of the original interior remains.

The mosque was restored in the nineteenth century under the reign of Muhammad Ali by Amir Sulayman al-Agha Silahdar, who also built the mosque in front of it again.

Originally, the Al-Aqmar mosque was not in the street as it is today, but much higher than in the street, standing on top of a row of shops. The ground level up buried these trades. However, at the time, they had an important function. The result of their rents were waqf, a foundation for the benefit of a religious institution for the maintenance and pay its staff long after the founder's death.

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