There is more to visiting Cairo than just seeing the great pyramids and sailing in a felucca on the Nile River. We took a tour of Islamic Cairo that included the Mosque and Madrassa of the Sultan Hasan, which was truly fascinating not so much for what we saw, but more about what we learned from our guide. We wouldn’t recommend visiting without a guide unless you are familiar Sunni Islam, the history of Cairo , and the influences of the surrounding countries. Also, it is not currently a working mosque, so without someone to provide clarity on the features, it might not be as easily understood.
Construction of the mosque began in 1356 and was completed 3 years later, which was only due to the fact that work continued every single day from the time that construction commenced until its completion. It is one of the largest mosques in the world and also houses schools or madrassas for each of the four Sunni schools, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali. Our guide took us into the mosque and had us sit near the minbar, which is the pulpit where the imam would deliver the sermon. Today, of course, one can hear the prayers all over the city as they ring from the loud speakers, but before that there was a platform where the words would be repeated for those in the main courtyard of the mosque to hear.
The mosque was built during the rule of the Mamluk’s, which were soldiers that were purchased slaves, rising their station above that of ordinary slaves. As is typical with such a type of rule, it was often cruel and would eventually lead to Egypt welcoming the Ottoman Empire to take control of the country in the late 16th century. The artwork within the mosque is as fascinating as its architecture and size. The floor of the open courtyard is a beautiful patchwork of colorful designs with an ornate dome in the center.
There are many wonderful mosques in Cairo and our tour included several, but the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hasan certainly stood out due to its history and architecture. It is located near the heart of the historic downtown area of Cairo and should definitely be visited while spending time in the area. Obviously going to the shops and bazaars is something that should be experienced, but if you want to understand the culture of the people and understand the evolution of the country that has been under foreign control for much of its history, you should take time to visit the mosques.