Sing: Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast, UMH 616
The Citadel is one of the world’s greatest monuments to medieval warfare. It is a highly visible landmark on Cairo’s east side and is built on a spur of limestone that had been detached from its parent Mogattam Hills by quarrying. This area began its life not as a great military base of operations, but as the “Dome of the Wind,” a pavilion created in 810 AD by Hatim Ibn Hartama, who was then governor. The governors who followed also enjoyed the site’s cool breeze and view of Cairo for the next three hundred years. Between 1176 and 1183 Salah ad-Din Yusuf Ibn al Ayyubi (Saladin) fortified the area to protect it against attacks by the Crusaders, and since then it has never been without a military garrison. Originally it served as both a fortress and a royal city. Salah ad-Din had come from Syria (a Tikrit born Kurd) where each town had some sort of fortress to act as a stronghold for the local ruler. So it was only natural that he would carry this custom to Egypt. Most of the fortifications you see today were built after Salah ad-Din’s rule, being added to by almost every invader since, some of whom destroyed much of what existed before them.
The Mohammed Ali Mosque (Alabaster Mosque)
Mohammed Ali Pasha al Mas’ud ibn Agha was the ruler of Egypt and founder of the country’s last dynasty of Khedives and Kings. He had this mosque designed by the Greek architect Yussuf Bushnaq and built in the Citadel of Cairo beginning in 1830. The mosque is his tomb and is known as the Alabaster Mosque because of the extensive use of this material.
Two architectural features stand out: first, the fifty-four full or partial gray domes of the mosque including the 170 feet high and 69 feet wide main dome. The second feature that stands out is the two minarets. Each slender minaret is 270 feet tall and yet they are each built on a foundation less the ten feet wide.
On the west wall of the courtyard is an iron clock, a gift of the French king, with a tea salon on the upper level. It has never worked, and probably never will. Before we entered the mosque we removed our shoes or bought shoe covers – we are asked to do this in order to protect the expensive carpets that cover the floor. The inside is awesome – for its sheer size and its cavernous beauty. Particularly striking was the interplay of the morning sunbeams coming through the eastern windows and the lights suspended from the ceilings. We also enjoyed the parapet of the fortress to which we exited from the mosque. From the top of the Citadel wall we had great views of Cairo to the west.