Salih Tala’i Mosque
The mosque is located in Bab Zuwayla Square in the Darb al-Ahmar district facing Bab Zuwayla, which is one of the gates of the southern wall of the Fatimid City of Cairo, i.e. the mosque was built outside the city walls, Cairo, Egypt
Hegira 555 / AD 1160
Al-Salih Tala’i ibn Ruzik, who occupied the position of vizier in the year AH 549 / AD 1154 during the reign of the Fatimid caliph al-Fa’iz bi Nasr Allah (r. AH 549–55 / AD 1154–60).
Al-Salih Tala'i Mosque is considered the last mosque built in the Fatimid period in Egypt. It includes distinctive architectural features that are scarcely found in any other Fatimid mosque.
The mosque was built 4 m above street level and a series of shops were built below it. This mode of mosque-building was known as a 'suspended mosque'; the building is thought to be the first example of a suspended mosque in Egypt. The shops were endowed (waqf) to the mosque, the revenue from them going towards its maintenance and renovation. This system of waqf was imitated subsequently in the Mamluk period in, for example, al-Ashraf Barsbay Madrasa in Cairo (built AH 827 / AD 1424).
The mosque has four facades, all of which are built of stone. On the lower parts of the northern, southern and western facades are shops located beneath the mosque. The principle (western) façade of the mosque consists of five arches forming an entrance arcade, which precedes the building. This is an arrangement that appears here for the first time, and which was borrowed from the Mosque of Abi Fatata in Sousse, Tunisia (built AH 226 / AD 841). The front of the entrance colonnade is decorated with niches, crowned with arches of radial-shell form and friezes, within which are Qur'anic verses carved in decorative kufic script; all of which is similar to the facade decoration of the Fatimid Mosque of al-Aqmar in Cairo. Above the shops is a frieze consisting of squares which are carved with a variety of decorations, the like of which appears later in the Madrasa of al-Salih Najm al-Din Ayyub also in Cairo, built during the Ayyubid period in AH 647 / AD 1249. The decorative scheme indicates the development in carved decoration on stone during the Fatimid period.
The building is rectangular in shape, measuring 53.50 m x 27 m. At the centre of the mosque is an open courtyard, and below the courtyard is a water cistern. The courtyard is surrounded by four roofed areas with rows of columns forming colonnades. The most important of these is the qibla sanctuary, consisting of three aisles of colonnades with arches resting on marble columns. The edges of the arches are decorated on the inside and outside with verses from the Qur'an carved in floriated kufic script, a decorative innovation that had appeared before in al-Azhar Mosque and in al-Aqmar Mosque, both of which are also in Cairo. Furthermore, the qibla wall, which contains the mihrab, is also characterised by stucco coloured-glass windows that are not original and which are surrounded by a stucco frieze on which Qur'anic verses are inscribed in kufic script. These decorative features were entirely new to Egyptian architecture. The Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo preserves an original stucco window from the old mosque.
To the right of the mihrab is the wooden minbar, which contains assembled geometric panels with carved vegetal decoration. This is one of the works commissioned by Amir Boktomor in AH 699 / AD 1299, during the reign of the Mamluk Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad bin Qalawun.
Some of the historical sources indicate that al-Salih Tala'i built this mosque to bury within it the head of Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. However, the Fatimid caliph, al-Fa'iz bi Nasr Allah, refused to entertain the idea, and insisted that it should not be placed anywhere except within the Palaces of Zahira, thus, he built the tomb within the Great Fatimid Palace. Today what remains of the tomb is to be found beside the Mosque of Sayyida al-Husayn, in the district of al-Husayn, in Cairo.
In 2005 the High Council of Antiquities undertook the implementation of a comprehensive restoration project for the mosque.
The last mosque to be built in Egypt in the Fatimid period, it lies outside the south Fatimid walls of Cairo opposite Bab Zuwayla. It is the first mosque in Egypt built above street level to allow the presence of shops beneath it to provide revenue for the mosque's upkeep and renovation. The decorations of the entrance arcade and its epigraphy resemble those on the facade of al-Aqmar mosque.
The building has an inscription at the point where the western and northern façades meet and details the name of the sponsor and the date of construction.
Abd al-Wahab, H., Tarikh al-Masajid al-Athariya [History of Monumental Mosques], Cairo, 1994.
Barrucand, M. (ed), L'égypte Fatimide: son art et son histoire, Paris, 1999.
Creswell, K. A. C., Muslim Architecture of Egypt, Vol. I,Oxford, 1960.
Al-Maqrizi, Al-mawā'iz wa'l-i'tibār bi-dhikr al-khiţaţ wa'l-āthār [Exhortations and Contemplation of the Recollection of Plans and Monuments], 2 Vols, Cairo, 1853.
Sameh, Kamal al-Din, Al-'Emara al-Islamiya fi Masr [Islamic Architecture in Egypt], Cairo, 1991.
Tarek Torky "Salih Tala’i Mosque" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;eg;Mon01;35;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 35
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Arabic Calligraphy | The Holy Qur’an
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