Photographer's Note

The Ibn Tulun Mosque was completed in 879 AD on Mount Yashkur in a settlement named al-Qata'i by the founder of Egypt's Tulunid Dynasty (868-905 AD), Ahmad ibn Tulun. Al-Qata'i was about two kilometers from the old community of Fustat. He was born in Baghdad, the son of a Turkish slave of Mongol origin owned by the Caliph, al-Ma'mun. He would later rise to became governor of Egypt after his stepfather, who died in 870, was awarded that position.

The mosque that he had built over a period of three years of mudbrick became the focal point of the Tulunid capital that lasted only 26 years. It was the third congregational mosque to be built in what is now greater Cairo, and at approximately 26,318 square meters in size, is the third largest mosque in the world. It is the oldest mosque in Egypt that has survived in a fairly original form. An ancient calligraphy in 9th century Kufic script provides:

"The Amir... has ordered the construction of this blessed and happy mosque, using the revenues from a pure and legitimate source that God has granted him...".

When the city center moved to what would become Cairo proper, away from al-Qata'a, the mosque fell into disuse. It was damaged when used as a shelter for pilgrims from North Africa to the Hijaz in the 12th c., but restored and refounded with madrasa-type functions by 'Alam al-Din Sanjar al-Dawadar at the behest of Mamluk Sultan Lajin in 1296. (Lajin had been one of the accomplices in the assassination of Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil ibn Qalawun, and while hiding in the deserted mosque, he vowed to restore it should he escape). It was also restored in later periods, and is in fact being restored again today. This mosque is one of Egypt's oldest, as well as a popular tourist attraction.

The Ibn Tulun mosque reflects all the characteristic features of Abbasid art within the realm of architecture, and was obviously influenced, particularly with regards to the minaret, the great rectangular piers with engaged corner columns, the decorative motif and other features by the famous Samarra mosque in present day Iraq.

The mosque is surrounded by an enclosure that measures 118 x 138 meters (387 x 453 feet). Surrounding the mosque on three sides (all but the qibla side) are narrow enclosed wings called ziyadas, and the mosque's famous minaret with its external spiral ramp is located within the northern ziyada. These small outer courtyards were an extension to insure privacy and separate the sanctified space from the public space of the outside world. They measure about 19 meters in width, and bring the mosque as a whole almost to an exact square shape.

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