Mosque of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun
The mosque of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun is in the southern residential section of the Citadel of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, also known as Citadel of the Mountain (Qala'a al Jabal), Cairo, Egypt
Built in AH 718 / AD 1318; enlarged extensively in AH 735 / AD 1335
Ibn al-Suyufi, the chief designer/architect during the period of al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun.
Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun who ruled three times (AH 693–4 / AD 1294–5; AH 698–708 / AD 1299–1309; AH 709–41 / AD 1309–40).
The mosque occupies a rectangular surface area measuring 57 m by 63 m. The ground plan of this mosque consists of a courtyard surrounded by four roofed areas, consisting of rows of columns, forming the parallel arcaded sides of the courtyard. The largest of these areas is located on the eastern side (direction of the qibla). The mosque follows the hypostyle scheme which was the traditional plan in the congregational mosques of the region and which continued in some mosques during the Mamluk period, such as the Mosque of al-Zahir Baybars (built AH 667 / AD 1268) and the Mosque of al-Tunbugha al-Maridani (built AH 740 / AD 1340), and both located in Cairo.
There are two entrances to the mosque: the main entrance is located on the northwestern side and is crowned with a tri-lobed arch. The second entrance is on the northeastern face of the mosque. The façades of the mosque are devoid of decoration and their upper portions are characterised by arched openings. The facades are crowned by arched crenellations, which resemble the battlements of a fortress. The mosque contains different types of Pharonic, Ptolemaic and Roman columns which were re-used in such a manner as to harmonise with the voussiors of the stone arches which are executed in the ablaq style, similar to those used in the Córdoba Mosque in Spain. Note also that in the upper areas of the arcade arches which overlook the courtyard, there are arched window openings similar to those present in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.
This building is distinguished by two minarets which are unique among the minarets of Cairo. The first (northwestern) is located to the left of the main entrance. The second minaret is located on the southeastern corner of the mosque. The two minarets, therefore, face in two directions towards which the call for prayers (the adhan) is directed: the military area in the western section, and the civilian area (sultanate palaces) in the southern section of the citadel. It is clear from the design of the minarets that they were influenced by Ilkhanid (Mongol) architecture, for they include the use of faience mosaics in green, which cover the tops of the minarets, and Qur'anic inscriptions in white against a background of blue, which are realised on ceramic tiles. Furthermore, the pinnacles of the two minarets assume the shape of a fluted bulbous dome.
This mosque was built inside the Citadel walls on the site of an earlier mosque. When completed, the Sultan appointed 20 of the best reciters and imams to lead prayers there. The call to prayer was reiterated from its two minarets, one directed towards the residential part of the Citadel and the second looking towards the military area. Friday prayers were attended by the Citadel's civil and military population and also the population of the surrounding area. One outstanding feature is the mihrab decorated with marble and mother-of-pearl mosaic; another is the coffered wooden ceiling of small octagons.
The building was dated based on the foundation plaque located above the main entrance, bearing the name of the builder and the date of construction.
Behrens-Abouseif, D., Islamic Architecture in Cairo, Leiden, 1989.
Creswell, K. A. C., Muslim Architecture of Egypt, Vol. II,Oxford, 1960.
Lyster, W., The Citadel of Cairo: A History and Guide, Cairo, 1993.
Rabbat, N., The Citadel of Cairo, 1176–1341: A Reconstruction of the Architecture from Texts, PhD thesis, MIT, 1991.
Sameh, Kamal al-Din, Al-'imara al-Islamiya fi Misr (Islamic Architecture in Egypt). Cairo, 1991.
Zaki, Abd al-Rahman, Qala'a Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi wa ma hawlaha min al-Athar [Citadel of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi and the Surrounding Monuments], Cairo, 1971.
Tarek Torky "Mosque of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;eg;Mon01;11;en
Prepared by: Tarek TorkyTarek Torky
Tarek Abdel Aziz Torky holds a BA in Islamic and Coptic Antiquities from Cairo University (1982). He is currently Head of the Statistics Department at the Information Centre of the Supreme Council of Antiquities and reporter of the committee set up to prepare for the celebrations of the centennial of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo. As Expo Curator for the Discover Islamic Art project in Egypt he prepared the database information for the Egyptian monuments included in the project and participated in formulating the dynastic and cross-dynastic exhibitions. He has participated in the first phase of the Islamic Art in the Mediterranean project as product manager and prepared the texts and photos for the catalogue Mamluk Art: the Splendour and Magic of the Sultans (MWNF, 2001). In 2002 he obtained a scholarship for Med. Master on new technologies for valorisation and management of Mediterranean Cultural Heritage in Ravello, Salerno.
Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: ET 11
Islamic Dynasties / Period
Related MWNF Tour Related MWNF Travel Book
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)