Mosque and School (Madrasah) of Sultan Hasan in Cairo

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp

The Mosque and School (Madrasah) of Sultan Hasan in Cairo is built between 1356—60. Its size was unprecedented (it is one of the largest mosques in the world).

History of Al Sultan Hasan

Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad had many wives, often daughters of his most powerful amírs. Consequently, he had many sons who were eligible to reign on his death in 1340, although Anuk, the eldest, whom he had groomed for succession, died before him. He also bequeathed to Egypt his sons-in-law and other amirs, all waiting to manipulate the succession for their own gain. Ahmad, the eldest surviving son, preferred to stay in the citadel of Karak; thus the 20-year-old Abu Bakr, another son, was raised by the amir Qawsun, who used the opportunity to dispose of his enemies. Within a year he had deposed the capable sultan and installed the seven-year-old Kujuk, However, Qawsun, in turn, was arrested by the amir Yalbugha, and Kujuk was set aside in 1342. Ahmad now came into his own, but although strong and handsome he was highly unstable. He had Qawsun executed and retreated to Karak, taking the two powerful amirs Qutlbubugha and Tashtimur in chains with him, after which he executed them too. The amirs next raised 17-year-old Isma’il with the amir Aqsunqur as atabak. He was capable and modest and managed to reign for three years, but after the defeat and death of Ahmad, he went into a decline and died. Sha’ban I had been nominated heir and succeeded peacefully in 1345, but his behavior was so outrageous that the amirs Yalbugha al-Yahyawai and Maliktimur rose in revolt. When his amirs deserted him he was confined in the Citadel and in 1346 the 15-year-old Hajji I was raised. This sultan spent most of his time playing with the pigeons in the courtyard of his palace and so it was not long before he too was set aside.


At a meeting of the amirs in 1347 Hasan was the unanimous choice as successor, He was at this time 12 years old, with red hair and freckles. For several years he paid little attention to affairs of state, but gradually he began to show signs of independence. He dismissed several prominent amirs and to prevent his own dismissal the amir Taz confined Hasan to the harim in 1351, raising the younger al Salih to the throne. However, the amir Shaykhu, the supporter of Hasan, waited until Taz was away hunting in 1354 when he seized al Salih, who in turn was sent to the harim, and reinvested Hasan. The sultan, now 18, had spent his confinement in valuable study and with Shaykhu as his principal amir concerned himself fully in the affairs of state. In 1357 Shaykhu was assassinated in the divan. His successor Sarghatmish rose to great power but was arrested and executed within ten months.

Hasan started to fill the official posts with civilian amirs raised by himself, presumably in an effort to break the power of the military amirs. He also tried to restrict the activities of another powerful faction, that of the eunuchs and slave girls who had reached great prominence during the reigns of his father and brothers. In 1361, before he had time to put his intention fully into effect, the amir Yalbugha al Umari the Atabak rose in revolt. Hasan escaped from the Citadel and hid in the city but he was discovered and imprisoned by Yalbugha. He was never seen again and his fate is unknown. He was succeeded by his nephew al Hajji II Yalbughâ married Tulubiyyah, wife of Hasan, but after further interference in the succession he was assassinated by his own mamluks in 1365.


The Mosque

Why Hasan chose to build on such a scale (the measurements are at least twice those of normal mosques) is another imponderable. The building is in the form of a cruciform mosque with the tomb, but it also contains separate madrasahs for each of the four schools, each with rooms for students. Hasan gave the order for its construction under the supervision of Amir Muh. b. al-Muhsini in 1356 and work continued ceaselessly for four years. It was almost complete when Hasan disappeared after which it was finished by one of his functionaries, Bashir al Gandar. Craftsmanship throughout the building is of the highest quality. Two palaces belonging to the amirs Yalbugha al Yahyawi and Tanbugha al Maridani occupied the site. The material is stone; internal details are in brick faced with stone. Four immense minarets were planned, one at each of the S corners and two above the great portal, but only three were built. That over the entrance, the W minaret, fell in 1361, shortly before Hasan’s disappearance, killing over 300 people. The E minaret fell in 1659 and its collapse must have shaken the whole structure for the dome fell the following year. Hasan Agha at the behest of Ibrahim Pasha undertook the reconstruction in 1671. The monumental character of the mosque made it almost a fortress and it was used as such several times during the conflicts of the amirs, the roof providing an excellent site for the emplacement of catapults and Cannon for the bombardment of the Citadel. To forestall its use against him Sultan Barquq destroyed the steps and sealed the entrance, while Sultan Mu’ayyad Shaykh purchased the magnificent doors in 1416 and incorporated them in his own mosque (Rte 6). In 1422 it was reopened by Sultan Barsbay.

Al-Qal’ah is the NE façade, stretching 76m from the entrance which, as with so many Mamluk buildings, is rather severe The sheer walls (36m high) have narrow stalactite-headed recesses, each with four pairs of windows set vertically. At the summit of the walls is a massive cornice of five layers of stalactite which projects 1 .5m. Above this was cresting but this was removed during Ottoman times, to relieve the weight, and it only remains around the tomb. At the S end of the façade is a semi-circular bastion That once supported the E minaret; the present Ottoman replacement is much smaller and consists of two undecorated octagonal tiers. In the center of the SE face is the tomb chamber (24m sq.) rising the full height of the main façade. On each side are two recesses with rounded stalactite hoods, each with two pairs of large windows, the upper window of double lights with an oculus. Between each recess is a large medallion with a central oculus surrounded by carved decoration. The original cresting can be seen along the summit of the wall. Above, the dome is set on a high multifaced drum. It has a relatively shallow profile and is supported by eight pairs of semi-round buttresses. This is the Ottoman reconstruction, but the original was probably similar to that over the tomb of Imam Shâffi (Rte 15), a timber frame covered with lead sheeting, with stucco or faience facing.

Above the W corner is the remaining original minaret, the highest and most massive in Cairo (81.6m). Although sparsely decorated its sheer size is impressive with two octagonal storeys surmounted by a pavilion, each with a stalactite cornice. The SW façade is similar in decoration to the NE although incomplete.

Set at a slight angle at the N end of the NE façade is the massive portal. On the corners of the slight salient are full-length, helically carved, engaged columns. Flanking the entrance are two screen walls with a series of carved rectangular panels, that are in the center with geometrical decoration. Between the panels and the entrance are full-length bands of foliate carvings with huge carved medallions at the base. Next to these are square pillars with chevron capitals (perhaps removed from a Christian building), that on the right with little carved insets of buildings. In the thickness of the portal are decorative panels below which on each side are two recesses, flanked by small columns, with stalactite semi-domes. Over these are panels of decorated Kufic inscription in green and white (Surat al-Fath v.1). Above is a further series of similar panels containing the shahadah and the names of the first four khalifs. Overall is the immense stone hood, of conical section, filled with many layers of stalactites and surmounted by a ribbed semi-dome. The doorway itself is rather simple and modern wooden doors have replaced the superb doors which MuCayyad Shaykh removed to his own mosque. An inscription running across the bay contains a fine Naskhi inscription from the Qur’an (Surat al-Nur).


The vestibule (8.5m sq.) is covered by a large dome raised on pendentives and in each side, other than the entrance, are Iwans. On the flanks of the W Iwans are keel-arched recesses and on the rear wall a panel of marble marquetry of superb quality. A door at the rear of the N Iwan leads on to a balcony but that in the S Iwan leads to the right up to some steps. A corridor that bends to the left leads into the N corner of the sahn (34.6m by 32m). Again the scale of the building is apparent. Each of the Iîwäns is roofed with a brick-pointed tunnel vault with a stone arch. Around the summit of the walls is the original cresting. Windows in the side walls open onto rooms for students and below these, flanking the NW and SE Iîwäns,

are doorways with flat stalactite arches giving access to the four madrasahs which fill the angles of the cruciform plan. The madrasahs are placed thus: at the S corner Shaffi, W corner Нanafi, N corner Hanbali and E corner Maliki. Each consists of a central open sahn with a tunnel-vaulted Iiwan opening to the SE, that of the Maliki school being the largest, surrounded by the students’ rooms. (On request to the guardian it is possible to ascend to the roof of the complex.)

The marble floor of the central sahn is a later addition, a poor substitute for the original, presumably removed by Salim I. In the centre is the Fawärah (fountain) consisting of an octagonal wooden canopy on octagonal marble baton pillars, and surmounted by a bulbous stucco-covered wooden dome resting on an octagonal drum. The emplacement of the fountain is original (it used to be filled with sherbet on festival days) but the superstructure is enigmatic. Although the band of Naskhi inscription around the dome gives the foundation date of the mosque (i.e. 1362) no other dome in Cairo has this peculiar profile and the drum and windows are rather too coarse for the period. Perhaps this is an Ottoman replacement, which included a copy of the original inscription.

Little ornament is retained in the NW or lateral Iwans but the principal SE Iwans has retained much of the original work. Running around the walls of these Iwans below the springing of the vault is an excellent monumental stucco inscription in Naskhi (c 1.5m high) containing Sürat al-Fath [vv.1—5) which tells of the mercy of Allah and the paradise awaiting the true believer. The facing on the lower part of the side walls is a replacement; the original probably reached up to the inscription. In the qiblah, walls are two windows in recesses and an oculus above the mihrab. The marble paneling on this wall is set in carved wood frames held in place with wooden cleats. The pointed-arched mihrab is fine and covered with marble marquetry, arcades in the recess, and chevrons in the hood. Double columns support the frame with complex joggled voussoirs. On the rectangular outer frame is a band of Naskhi inscriptions. The marble minbar has a large stalactite cornice above the entry. The doors are wood-covered with bronze. Flanking the mihrâb are windows with bronze grills. At the front of the Iiwan is the marble dikkah raised on eight pillars and three piers, the outer pair with polychrome columns attached. Around the platform is a marble balustrade. Hanging from the roof of the Iîwân are the chains that once held the beautiful enameled glass lamps (some of which are now in the MIA).


At either end of the qiblah, wall doorways lead into the tomb chamber. The door on the right retains its original bronze facing with gold and silver inlay. The tomb Chamber is set directly in front of the qiblah wall, an innovation since up to this time the tomb had occupied a position in one of the angles to the right or left of the qiblah.

The tomb chamber (21m sq.) has walls faced in a similar fashion to the qiblah wall, marble surrounded by carved bands of wood. In the center of the NW wall is a large marble marquetry panel. and running around all the walls is a huge carved wooden frieze (2m wide) of Naskhi inscription, blue letters on a gold background. Above this, held out from the wall on brackets, is a frame for the suspension of lamps, richly carved and gilded. The mihräb is only slightly smaller than that in the mosque and the decoration is similar except that in one of the blind arcades the columns are of blue faience, not marble. At the corners of the walls are the lower parts of the wooden squinches of eight layers of stalactites-carved, painted, and gilded that supported the original roof. The whole of the N corner of the tomb has been restored to its original condition. In the center of the floor is the unimpressive grave, with täbùt of colored marble surrounded by a small wooden screen. Whether Hasan was interred here is not known but some of his descendants were, including his sons al-Shihab Ahmad (died 1386) and Ismäîl (died 1396).

Related Article Types
Related Article Tags
Related Articles
Explore Related Tours

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Customize your Trip

Egypt Elegant Tours Team is keen to help you planning your tour in Egypt.

Translate »
error: Alert: Content is protected !!