Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha
The mosque is located in the northwestern corner within the Citadel of Salah al-Din. It overlooks the City of Cairo and the towering minarets are visible from every point in the city, Cairo, Egypt
Hegira 1265 / AD 1848
Muhammad Ali Pasha (r. AH 1220–65 / AD 1805–48) who was the founder of the dynasty that ruled Egypt for almost 150 years (AH 1220–1372 / 1805–1952).
The mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha is one of the most renowned historical and touristic landmarks in Egypt. The design for this mosque was derived from the Mosque of Sultan Ahmad in Istanbul (built AH 1025 / AD 1616). Construction of the mosque began in AH 1246 / AD 1830 and work continued on it, without interruption, until the death of Muhammad Ali Pasha in AH 1265 / AD 1848. He was buried in a tomb that he had prepared for himself within the mosque in the southwestern corner. Construction of the walls, domes and minaret had been completed by the time of Ali Pasha's death, and when 'Abbas Pasha I assumed power (r. AH 1265–70 / AD 1848–54), he ordered the completion of work on the marble, carvings and the gilding, and added a marble construction and a copper maqsura for Ali Pasha's mausoleum. In the year 1931, during the rule of King Fu'ad I (r. 1917–36), huge structural deficiencies appeared in the main dome and in the surrounding semi-domes. They were rebuilt according to their original form with regard to the architecture as well as decoration. The mosque was re-opened after its restoration in 1939, during the reign of King Faruq I (r. 1936–52).
The building is composed of four stone facades completely encased with Egyptian marble. The northeastern façade of the building is the main façade, and in the centre of it is the principle portal consisting of an aperture for a two-leaf wooden door. A semi-circular arch with a soffit that is decorated with intertwining pierced vegetal decoration, crowns the opening. The façade to the right of the entrance consists of 11 vertical recesses in the wall. On the lower area of each recess is a window-opening adorned with pierced-metal vegetal and geometric decorative motifs. The section to the left of the entrance is recessed. It is preceded by a colonnade that has semi-circular arches which are supported on marble columns, thereby dividing the colonnade into 11 square areas that are covered with shallow domes.
The floor-plan of the mosque consists of a rectangle divided into two square areas: the eastern section and the western section. The eastern section holds the prayer hall, its side measuring from the inside roughly 41 m. At the centre of the prayer hall is a dome whose diameter measures 21 m and whose height is 52 m from the floor. The dome is supported by four great arches, which are supported in turn by four large, square piers. The main dome is surrounded by four semi-domes, and there is another semi-dome situated above the mihrab. Four smaller domes are placed at the corners of the building.
On the exterior the domes are panelled with lead sheets, while their interior surfaces are decorated with polychrome high-relief carvings and gilding, realised in the neo-Baroque style. The arches and spherical pendentives below the dome are adorned with the name of Allah and with the phrase, 'Muhammad is the Prophet of God' as well as the names of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs (Rashidun). The interior walls of the mosque, as well as the four interior piers, are panelled with Egyptian marble or alabaster up to a height of 11 m. In the middle of the qibla wall there is a marble mihrab. Beside it is a magnificent marble minbar, and next to that is another minbar of gilded wood that is amongst the works commissioned by King Faruq after the restoration of 1939. On the northwestern wall is the dikkat al-muballigh, an elevated platform from which the prayers of the day are recited to worshippers. The dikkat al-muballigh extends the width of the building and is supported by eight marble columns.
The western section of the mosque consists of a courtyard measuring 53 m x 54 m. This is surrounded by four colonnades whose arches are supported by marble columns. The colonnades are roofed by small domes: the interior decorated with geometric and vegetal decoration; the exterior covered with lead panels. In the middle of the courtyard, is an ablutions fountain made of marble. It is octagonal in shape and covered by a marble dome, and an outer wooden dome, which is supported by eight marble columns and topped by a wooden awning. The internal surface of the wooden dome is decorated with landscape paintings in the Baroque style. On the two edges of the western façade of the courtyard are two slender minarets that tower 82 m up into the sky. Each is crowned by a pointed conical pinnacle in the Ottoman style. In the centre of this façade is a copper clock-tower; a gift from Louis Philippe, the King of France (r. 1830–48) to Muhammad Ali Pasha in AH 1262 / AD 1845.
The mosque occupies the loveliest spot of Cairo's Citadel, overlooking the whole city. Just as the pyramids are the symbol of ancient Egypt, this mosque symbolises modern Egypt. It is one of the most famous monuments in the residential part of the Citadel. Built on the model of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, it is often called the Alabaster Mosque because of the alabaster revetments of its interior.
This building was dated based on its historical epigraphic inscriptions. An inscription panel above the windows of the eastern colonnade, overlooking the courtyard of the mosque, comprises Quranic verses and the date 1262 (1843). Another inscription with Qur'anic verses is found on the ablutions fountain, including the date 1263 (1844). The date of the building is also supported by waqf documents designated to the building which include the Deed of the Waqf number 854 dated 1269 (1852), in the name of 'Abbas Pasha I, and the Deed of the Waqf number 860 dated 1273 (1856), in the name of Muhammad Sa'id Pasha (r. 1270–9 / 1854–63). There are two further deeds preserved in the archives of the Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf (Endowments).
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Al-Asad, M., “The Mosque of Muhammad Ali in Cairo”, Muqarnas, 9, 1992, pp.39–55.
Behrens-Abouseif, D., Islamic Architecture in Cairo, Leiden, 1989.
Mustafa, Salih L., Al-Turath al-Mi'mari al-Islami fi Masr [Islamic Architectural Heritage in Egypt], Beirut, 1975.
Lyster, W., The Citadel of Cairo: A History and Guide, 1993, Cairo.
Rabbat, N. The Citadel of Cairo: A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk Architecture, Leiden, 1995.
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Tarek Torky "Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;eg;Mon01;21;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 21
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Western Influence in Ottoman Lands | Egypt The Ottomans | The Visual Language of Power
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