Cairo, Egypt, boasts a remarkable blend of history and architecture, and among its many treasures are the mosques dating back to the Ottoman era. These historic sites offer a glimpse into a time when Ottoman influence left an indelible mark on Egypt’s landscape.
In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of Ottoman-era mosques in Cairo, each with its own unique story and architectural charm.
From the elegant design of the Demerdash Mosque to the timeless beauty of the Al-Mahmoudia Mosque, we will explore the distinctive features and historical significance of these architectural gems.
Join us as we journey through the Sulayman Pasha al-Khadem Mosque, the Sinan Pasha Mosque, the Al-Burdayni Mosque, and many more, uncovering the cultural and historical tapestry woven into the city’s fabric.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an architecture aficionado, or simply curious about the rich heritage of Cairo, these Ottoman-era mosques provide a captivating glimpse into Egypt’s past and its enduring legacy.
The Demerdash Mosque
The Damerdash Mosque, an architectural gem with a rich history, stands as a testament to Egypt’s enduring cultural heritage. Originally constructed during the Abbasid era, this mosque’s final touches were completed in 1523, marking the dawn of Ottoman rule in Egypt.
It occupies a significant place near the Damerdash Hospital, affiliated with the Ain Shams University Faculty of Medicine.
The mosque’s architecture is both captivating and historically significant. A square room, measuring 11 by 10 meters, forms its core. Dominating the interior are three striking muqarnases, accompanied by a grand oval dome featuring sixteen small openings, some as windows and others for decorative purposes.
The mihrab, on the qibla wall, is an exquisite wooden structure adorned with intricate detailing. Adjacent to it lies the mausoleum of Sheikh al-Demerdash, adding spiritual depth to the mosque’s ambiance.
While elements like the dome have retained their ancient allure, other parts of the mosque have been reconstructed over time. It now includes additional sections on the south and west sides, a wooden roof, and a niche and platform on the wall separating it from the dome. Surrounding the mosque is a serene garden, accompanied by residences for the mosque’s staff.
The entrance, graced by a Mamluk-style minaret, invites visitors to explore the historical and architectural marvel that is the Damerdash Mosque.
The Sulayman Pasha al-Khadem Mosque
The Sulayman Pasha al-Khadem Mosque, also known as the Sariat al-Jabal Mosque, is a remarkable historical treasure perched atop Mount Mokattam within the Cairo Citadel. Constructed in 1528, it holds the distinction of being the first mosque in Egypt to embrace the Ottoman architectural style.
This mosque’s story is intertwined with the rise of Suleiman Pasha Al-Khadem, a distinguished statesman of the Ottoman Empire. Suleiman Pasha’s ascent to prominence followed the era of Ibrahim Pasha, and he played a pivotal role in controlling the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, furthering the empire’s interests.
The mosque stands on the foundations of an earlier structure, dating back to the Fatimid Caliphate. Its construction under Suleiman Pasha marked a shift towards the Ottoman architectural influence in Egypt. The fusion of Ottoman and Cairene architectural elements in this mosque exemplifies Egypt’s unique architectural journey during this period.
The mosque’s interior reveals a T-form design, distinctive of Ottoman architecture, with a central dome surrounded by semi-domes adorned with intricate colored inscriptions. The beauty of the central dome is enhanced by its green qashani geometric patterns, supported by spherical pendentives with exquisite vegetal decorations.
A visit to this mosque unveils a harmonious blend of architectural innovation, intricate calligraphy, and historical significance. The courtyard houses the shrine of Sidi Sariya, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, along with various Ottoman officials’ tombs.
The overall design reflects the synthesis of architectural styles that defined Egypt’s rich history during the Ottoman period.
The Al-Mahmoudia Mosque
The Al-Mahmoudia Mosque, also known as the Mosque of Mahmud Pasha, stands as a historical gem within Cairo. Situated at Salah al-Din Square within the Citadel of Cairo, it commands a prominent presence in front of Bab al-Azab gate, flanked by the Sultan Hassan Mosque and the Al-Rifa’i Mosque to the east.
This mosque’s origins trace back to the Ottoman era in 1567, during the reign of Mahmud Pasha, whose final resting place can be found within its walls. The mosque derives its name from this influential figure. However, Mahmud Pasha’s life met a tragic end near the mosque when he was accused of oppressing the Egyptian people and shot dead.
What makes the Al-Mahmoudia Mosque distinctive is its architectural blend, combining the Mamluk tradition for the main building with elements of Ottoman architecture, particularly in the minaret’s design.
The minaret itself is adorned with a ring of muqarnas and culminates in a cone-shaped obelisk. Despite being slightly smaller than neighboring mosques, this mosque’s unique positioning atop a stone foundation necessitates climbing a set of stairs for access. Ornate entrance gates grace two of its sides, featuring windows filled with intricate plaster and maroon glasswork, crowned with muqarnas.
Over the years, the mosque underwent restoration, with Farouk I overseeing renovations in 1940, reinforcing vaults and repairing the ceiling. In recent times, concerns have arisen regarding the minaret’s stability, as cracks in the wall behind it have been detected, warranting immediate attention to prevent a potential collapse.
The Sinan Pasha Mosque
The Sinan Pasha Mosque, established in Cairo’s Bulaq district around 1571 by the governor Koca Sinan Pasha, is a striking fusion of Mamluk and Ottoman architectural styles.
The mosque’s namesake, Sinan Pasha, a prominent Ottoman governor of Egypt and Grand Vizier, earned recognition for his political acumen and military prowess. His contributions included reopening Alexandria Bay and erecting this mosque.
Originally situated along the Nile’s shore, it now stands westward due to the river’s shift. Notable features include its free-standing position within a garden and a square prayer hall encircled by a gallery on three sides, adorned with eleven shallow domes.
Inside, the influence of the Fadawiya Mausoleum is apparent, with a wooden dikka on the northeastern side. Historically, the mosque was part of a complex with three khans, and its hamam (bathhouse) still remains.
Spanning 35 meters in length and 27 meters in width, the mosque features a large central dome surrounded by three iwans on the northern, southern, and western sides. Lacking a traditional courtyard due to its Nile-facing location, it is enclosed by corridors and exterior walls with doors.
The central dome, 15 meters in diameter, blends stone and brick construction, housing 16 windows in its neck. The mihrab on the dome’s eastern side boasts two marble columns adorned with intricate ablaq-shaped castanets.
The minaret, recognized for its pencil-like shape, graces the southeastern corner with typical Ottoman decorative elements. A faience sundial, created by Hassan Al-Sawaf in 1862, adds historical charm to the mosque’s southwestern end.
The Al-Burdayni Mosque
The Al-Burdayni Mosque, constructed in 1616 during the Ottoman era, showcases a unique blend of history and architectural splendor. Commissioned by merchant Kareem al-din al-Bardayni, this mosque defies architectural norms of its time by embracing the Mamluk style, despite its Ottoman origins.
The mosque’s distinctive L-shaped structure, with a grand minaret to the right, serves as a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, featuring octagonal and circular tiers adorned with intricate carvings and motifs, culminating in a bulb-like crown of muqarna ornamentation.
The interior is a testament to exceptional craftsmanship, with stained marbles covering walls, colorful glass adorning windows, and a wooden ceiling diffusing soft, gentle light. The minbar, adorned with intricate geometric designs of wood and mother of pearl, adds to the mosque’s opulence.
Mamluk art and architecture come to life within the Al-Burdayni Mosque, featuring detailed stained glass windows, a resplendent minbar, and a mesmerizing Mihrab adorned with inlaid marble and blue-glass plates. The walls themselves are a mosaic of polychrome marble, reflecting Mamluk tradition and culture.
In stark contrast to its neighboring mosque, the Malika Safiya, the Al-Burdayni Mosque stands out for its unique ornate charm. It is a testament to the vision of a wealthy merchant who left an indelible mark on Cairo’s architectural heritage.
The Mosque of Abu al-Dhahab
The Mosque of Abu al-Dhahab, situated in Cairo, near the Al-Azhar Mosque, is an exceptional architectural marvel of the 18th century. Commissioned by Muhammad Bey Abu al-Dhahab, a prominent Egyptian bey and mamluk of ‘Ali Bey al-Kabir, it was constructed or completed in 1774.
This mosque once served as the focal point of a comprehensive religious-charitable complex, featuring a madrasa, library, takiya (Sufi complex), sabil (water dispensary), hod (water trough), and latrines, marking the final significant architectural project of this nature by Egypt’s mamluk beys.
Architecturally, the Mosque of Abu al-Dhahab harmoniously blends Mamluk and Ottoman influences, reminiscent of the earlier Mosque of Sinan Pasha. It boasts a rectangular prayer hall crowned by a grand dome, encircled on three sides by an external portico adorned with smaller domes. The entrance portal and windows of the portico exhibit intricate muqarnas and ablaq decorations in the Mamluk style.
Inside the mosque, a magnificent dome adorned with Ottoman-style arabesques and motifs takes center stage, supported by trilobed squinches at the corners. The mihrab displays Mamluk-style inlaid mother-of-pearl and marble decoration, while two tiers of windows pierce the drum of the dome. A wooden dikka platform graces the wall opposite the mihrab.
Within the portico, beneath a smaller dome in the northeast corner, rests the tomb of Abu al-Dhahab and his sister Zulaykha, embellished with a mosaic of tiles from various regions and eras, including Iznik and Istanbul tiles from Turkey, locally-made tiles, and Qallalin tiles from Tunisia. To the south, remnants of a two-story structure once served as the takiya or Sufi lodge.
The Muhammad Ali Mosque
The Muhammad Ali Mosque, or the Alabaster Mosque, within Cairo’s Citadel, is an architectural marvel commissioned by Muhammad Ali Pasha between 1830 and 1848. This Ottoman mosque graces Cairo’s skyline with twin minarets atop the citadel’s summit, making it the city’s most prominent.
It commemorates Tusun Pasha, Muhammad Ali’s eldest son, who passed away in 1816. Designed by architect Yusuf Boshnak, inspired by Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmed Mosque, it replaced former Mamluk structures within the Citadel, a project initiated in 1830 and completed in 1857 under Said Pasha’s rule.
The mosque follows Ottoman design principles with a central dome, four smaller domes, and four semicircular domes. It spans 41×41 meters, with the central dome measuring 21 meters in diameter and 52 meters in height. Two Turkish-style minarets grace the western side, reaching 82 meters.
Constructed primarily from limestone, potentially sourced from the Great Pyramids of Giza, the mosque’s lower portion features alabaster tiles up to 11.3 meters. The exterior boasts angular facades rising about four stories.
The central dome rests on four arches supported by colossal piers, while four semicircular domes surround it. Additional smaller domes embellish the corners. The walls and pillars are adorned with alabaster up to 11 meters high, contributing to the mosque’s grandeur.
A monumental tower clock, a gift from King Louis Philippe of France, adorns the northwestern riwak. In return, France received the Luxor Obelisk, now at Paris’s Place de la Concorde.
The Muhammad Ali Mosque stands as an architectural masterpiece, blending Ottoman and Egyptian influences, symbolizing Cairo’s heritage and independence.
Mosque-Sabil of Sulayman Agha al-Silahdar
The Mosque-Sabil of Sulayman Agha al-Silahdar, situated in the historic district of Islamic Cairo, is a remarkable complex established during the era of Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1839. Found at the beginning of Burjouan alley on Muizz Street, it faces Al-Nahasin Street leading to Bab Al-Shaareya square.
This architectural gem consists of two main sections. The western part houses the mosque’s sanctuary and a sahn (courtyard) surrounded by a hallway covered by small domes, adorned with vibrant oil paintings featuring floral and geometric patterns and Qur’anic inscriptions.
The sahn boasts a wooden roof with a central opening for light, ventilation, and rain protection. The eastern section encompasses a prayer room with two pillars, each supporting two marble columns. These divide the prayer area into three corridors aligned with the qibla wall, featuring a wooden ceiling adorned with colorful oil paintings and a marble mihrab.
Renovated in 2015, the mosque reflects Ottoman-style architecture, enriched with European Renaissance-inspired floral designs and granite structures, housing Quranic inscriptions. The exterior facade, constructed from white marble, showcases Turkish calligraphy, while the sabil (charity fountain) maintains a cool water temperature using marble.
The exterior boasts shallow arches, a minaret with a single balcony, and slender cylindrical shafts with elongated conical tops, contributing to its elegance.
The Mosque-Sabil of Sulayman Agha al-Silahdar exemplifies the fusion of Ottoman and European architectural elements, an enduring testament to Cairo’s rich heritage.
Al-Sayeda Zainab Mosque
Al-Sayeda Zainab Mosque, a historic and monumental mosque in Cairo, holds a prominent place in the country’s history. The mosque is dedicated to Sayyidah Zaynab bint Ali, the daughter of Ali, the fourth Caliph, and the first Shi’ite Imam, and his wife Fatimah, daughter of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Located in Cairo’s Al-Sayeda Zainab neighborhood, the mosque stands as the centerpiece of the area, surrounded by Al-Sayeda Zainab Square, one of Cairo’s most renowned and bustling squares.
The square is particularly lively during the Islamic month of Ramadan, with numerous restaurants and cafes attracting crowds, especially during breakfast and sahur (pre-dawn meal).
The history of the mosque is intertwined with the legacy of Sayyida Zaynab. Some historians believe that she was exiled to Egypt a few months after the Battle of Karbala and spent nine months there before her death, leading to her burial at this site.
This makes it a significant pilgrimage destination for both Sunnis and Isma’ili Shi’ites. However, Twelver Shi’as believe her tomb is in Damascus, Syria, where another mosque bears her name.
Although the exact date of the mosque’s construction over Sayyida Zaynab’s grave remains uncertain, it underwent several renovations over the centuries. Ottoman Ali Pasha initiated renovation in 1547, followed by Amir Abdul Rahman in 1768. In 1940, the Ministry of Endowment demolished the old structure and erected the current one.
The mosque originally featured seven corridors parallel to the qibla wall and a square dish covered with a dome. Opposite the qibla wall lies Sayyida Zaynab’s mausoleum, enclosed by a brass fence and crowned with a tall dome. In 1969, the Ministry of Endowment expanded the mosque’s area, securing its place in Egypt’s rich history.
The Sayeda Aisha Mosque
The Sayeda Aisha Mosque, located in Cairo, in the Khalifa neighborhood outside the Citadel Square, holds historical and religious significance, being named after Sayyidah Aisha bint Ja’far al-Sadiq. This mosque, dedicated to her memory, is a testament to the rich Islamic heritage of Cairo.
The history of this mosque traces back to the Ottoman era, with its original construction dating to 1762 under the supervision of Abdul Rahman Katkhuda bin Hussein Jawish al-Qazdughli. Over time, the mosque underwent several transformations, culminating in its complete reconstruction in 1971.
Sayyidah Aisha’s tomb has been a place of reverence for centuries. Historians agree that she came to Egypt and spent her final days there, ultimately being buried in Cairo. Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, the renowned Muslim leader, constructed a school next to her tomb during the Ayyubid era.
Today, the Sayeda Aisha Mosque, stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Sayyidah Aisha and her devotion to Islam.
Al-Sayyida Nafisa Mosque
Al-Sayyida Nafisa Mosque, also known as Mashhad al-Sayyida Nafisa, is a remarkable place of worship and remembrance located in the heart of the al-Sayyida Nafisa district within Cairo’s historic necropolis, known as al-Qarafa or the City of the Dead.
This mosque holds profound cultural and religious significance as it stands as a tribute to the esteemed Islamic scholar Sayyida Nafisa, a member of the revered household of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Situated on Ahl al-Bayt street, this mosque is a significant stop along the path that leads to various mausoleums commemorating distinguished Islamic figures. It is the second destination on this historical street, following Imam Ali Zayn al-Abideen’s mausoleum.
As visitors journey along this route, they encounter the resting places of notable individuals such as Sayyida Sakinah bint Husayn, Sayyida Ruqqiyah bint Ali bin Abu Taleb, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Jafar al-Sadiq, and Sayyida ‘Atikah, the aunt of Muhammad.
The architectural history of Al-Sayyida Nafisa Mosque is rich and diverse, reflecting the passage of time and the contributions of various rulers. Originally founded by Obaidullah ibn al-Suri during the Abbasid era, the shrine underwent several renovations, including work during the Fatimid era, where a dome was added.
Notably, it was further renovated during the Ottoman era under the guidance of Prince Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda, resulting in the structure we see today.
Inside the mosque, visitors can explore a corridor leading to the Sharif’s room, adorned with paintings and verses praising the Ahl al-Bayt. Al-Sayyida Nafisa Mosque and its surrounding necropolis are also recognized as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Historic Cairo, underscoring their cultural importance.
The magnificent Al-Rifa’i Mosque, also known as Al-Rifai or El-Refa’i, stands proudly in Citadel Square, adjacent to Cairo Citadel in Egypt. It serves a dual purpose as a place of worship and the royal mausoleum for the esteemed family of Muhammad Ali, the 19th-century ruler of Egypt.
This architectural marvel was conceived as a complement to the nearby Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, creating a harmonious blend of historical and modern elements.
The mosque’s construction spanned several decades, from 1869 to 1912, undergoing changes in architects, design, and purpose along the way. Originally commissioned for Hoshiyar Qadin, the mother of Khedive Isma’il Pasha, it replaced the preexisting zawiya of Ahmed al-Rifa’i, a revered medieval Islamic saint.
The mosque’s architectural style draws inspiration from Egypt’s Mamluk era, featuring a stunning dome, minaret, and pillars reminiscent of Ancient Egyptian aesthetics.
Al-Rifa’i Mosque is not only a place of prayer but also houses the shrines of local saints, including al-Rifa’i, Ali Abi-Shubbak, and Yahya al-Ansari. It stands as a symbol of Egypt’s historical and political evolution, and its entrance is adorned with marble columns.
Within its walls, this sacred site is the final resting place of notable figures, such as Hoshiyar Qadin, Isma’il Pasha, Sultan Hussein Kamel, King Fuad I, and King Farouk. It also briefly held the remains of Reza Shah of Iran, later returned to Iran, and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who found his eternal rest in Cairo after the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Al-Rifa’i Mosque is a testament to Egypt’s rich history, a blend of architectural styles, and a solemn repository of the country’s notable figures and royalty.