Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan

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Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan

Built between 1356 and 1363 by the Mamluk ruler Sultan Hassan, this is one of the largest Islamic religious buildings in the world. Historians believe that its builders may have used stone from the Pyramids at Giza. The scale of the masterpiece is so colossal that it nearly emptied the vast Mamluk Treasury.

You enter the complex at an angle, through a tall portal that is itself a work of art. Before going in, look at the carving on both sides of the entrance that culminates in a series of stalactites above. A dark and relatively low-ceilinged passageway to the left of the entrance leads to the brightly lit main area, a standard cruciform-plan open court.

What is different about this plan is the fact that between each of the four liwans is a madrasa, one for each of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, complete with its own courtyard and four stories of cells for students and teachers. Also unique is the location of the mausoleum behind the qibla liwan, which, in effect, forces people who are praying to bow before the tomb of the dead sultan—a fairly heretical idea to devout Muslims. Nevertheless, the mausoleum, facing the Maydan Salah al-Din, is quite beautiful, particularly in the morning when the rising sun filters through grilled windows.

Only one of the two tall minarets is structurally sound, the one to the left of the qibla liwan. Have the custodian take you up inside of it to get a view of the city, especially of the Citadel. In fact, this roof was used by several armies to shell the mountain fortress, Bonaparte's expedition included.


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