Mosque of Muhammad Аli Pasha the Alabaster Mosque in The Citadel Cairo

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the Mosque of Muhammad Аli Pasha, also called the Alabaster Mosque. It was built between 1830-48, although not completed until the reign of Sa’id Pasha in 1857.

Its form is that of an Ottoman forecourt mosque with no debt to the Mamluk style that had persisted for so long in Egypt. The architect was Yusuf Bushnak from lstanbul. The ground on which the mosque was constructed was built up with debris from many of the earlier buildings of the Citadel. Before it was completed Abbas I had the alabaster stripped from the upper walls to line his own palaces and replaced it with wooden panels painted to resemble marble. In 1899 it showed signs of cracking and repairs were undertaken. As these were inadequate restoration

The courtyard of the Mosque of Muhammad Alí Páshá, With gingerbread clock
The courtyard of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali Páshá, With gingerbread clock

was ordered by King Fouad I in 1931 and was finally being completed under King Faruq in 1939. The main material is limestone but the lower storey of the mosque and forecourt is faced to a height of 1 1.5m with alabaster which has unfortunately deteriorated and turned grey. The external facades are rather severe and angular, those of the mosque rising four storeys to the level where the lead-covered shallow domes rise in billows to a height of 52m. At the E and S corners are small domed turrets while at the W and N corners are the slender octagonal minarets with two balconies and conical caps which rise to 82m. The mihrab salient on the SE wall is three storeys high and is covered with a semi-dome. Rising to the second storey are the arcades on the NE and SW sides, supported on columns and covered with domes, with an entrance on each side. There are also entrances on each of the three sides of the forecourt; the usual entry is through that on the NE side.

The forecourt measures 50m sq. and is surrounded by single arched riwaqs raised on pillars and roofed with small domes. The opposite is the doorway in the SW wall. At the far end in the centre of the NW riwaq is a pavilion, above which is the elaborate French clock presented to Muh. Ali by Emperor Louis Philippe in 1845. (The Pasha reciprocated with the obelisk now in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.) In the centre of the forecourt is an octagonal ablution fountain covered by a large lead-domed canopy, resting on eight pillars, the awning carved with extravagant ornament. The entrance to the mosque is in the NW façade.

The interior (41m sq.) gives an incredible sense of space, with the central dome resting on four large arches, supported by massive piers.

Mosque of Muhammad Аli Pasha in The Citadel - the Alabaster Mosque
Mosque of Muhammad Аli Pasha in The Citadel – the Alabaster Mosque

Surrounding the dome are four half—domes and covering the corners are four smaller domes, while the mihrab is covered by a half-dome at a lower level. The domes are painted and covered with medallions and other motifs in relief while at their bases are galleries with bronze balustrades. Alabaster panels face the walls and pillars to 11m and above are panels of baroque painted decoration. Above the entrance is the Grand Gallery supported on marble pillars with a bronze balustrade. Beneath it to the right of the entrance is the three-tiered Tomb of Muhammad Ali, of white marble carved with floral motifs and painted and gilded inscription. His body was transferred here from the Hawsh al-Basha in 1857. The bronze grill was provided by Abbas I Pasha.

Muhammad Ali was born in the port of Kavalla (in modern Macedonia. Greece, for which Egypt still holds the waqf) in 1770, the son of Ibrahim, a tobacco merchant. One of 11 children, he was raised by Hasan Shurbaji, the local governor, and joined the police force, as well as being involved in the family business. He married Aminah, a girl from a nearby village, who was to be his only contracted wife, and they had three sons and two daughters. The area had many settled Albanian inhabitants with whom Muhammad Ali was intimately involved in the course of his business; he was therefore made second in command of the local Albanian contingent sent to Egypt in 1801 in the Ottoman counter-offensive to the French occupation. By subtle manipulation of the various factions within the Ottoman forces and the Egyptian elites he quickly became commander of the Albanian regiments and in 1805, with the removal of the Ottoman wali, he was elected to that post by the Egyptian ‘ulama.

His post confirmed by the sultan, he slowly and surely elimated or neutralised the groups which had once supported him. After the massacre of the mamliks in 1811 he was virtually unassailable and turned his attention to foreign involvements, using his sons and close relatives to command his forces. Initial successes in Arabia (1811—18) and Sudan (1812—20) encouraged him to participate in the Greek campaign (1821—27), but his plans were frustrated by European interference

He later had much greater success in Syria and Anatolia (1830—40), his forces, under his son Ibrahim utterly defeating the Prussian-trained forces of the sultan, whose capitulation he was about to receive when the Western powers again intervened. In return for withdrawal, Muhammad Ali demanded acknowledgment of the hereditary right of his family to the governorship of Egypt—it was granted.

In Egypt, he attracted European scholars and scientists to introduce modern education, medical care, and industrial techniques. He sent students to France and Britain to qualify in various professions and he reformed the army under European officers A printing press was introduced in 1822 and the economy was realigned. Probably the greatest of his works was the building of the Mahmudiyyah Canal to Alexandria, not achieved without great loss of life. From several concubines, he had a further score of Children, though only six sons lived to produce descendants.

In 1848 Muhammad Ali’s health broke and he declined rapidly. Ibrahim was made Pasha but died after two months. Abbas I succeeded to the Viceroyalty and Muhammad Ali died in 1849. Abbas did not bother to attend the funeral. Against the E Pier is the kursi and on the W wall the dikkah supported on alabaster columns, also with a bronze balustrade. In the E corner is a subsidiary mihrab, but the main mihrab is in a salient, to the right of which is a marble minbar provided by King Faruq. The immense original minbar is to the right near the S pier, made of wood and gilded; but its position is unfavourable, hence the new one presented by Faruq. Great chandeliers depend from the domes. S of the Mosque of Mull. Ali is the Qasr al-Gawharah (505), the Jewel Palace, built in 1814 and the first of the two palaces Muh. Ali constructed in the Citadel.

Like its counterpart in the N Enclosure, its architecture is unremarkable, being heavily influenced by the severe early 19C French style.

However, the interior contains many painted walls and ceilings. When the khedives moved their residence to the Abdin Palace in the city, it was opened to the public and after the Revolution turned into a museum. In 1972, during a theft attempt, the NW wing was set on fire and the palace has been closed since then.

Below the parapet supporting the foundations of the Mosque of Muh. Ali are the sad remains of the Qasr al-Ablaq (549), the Striped Palace of Sultan al-Nasir Muh., its position indicated by a 35m row of immense corbels.

It was built between 1313—15 as the residence of the sultan in the Citadel. Consisting of several courts with access to the other palaces, it was constructed in alternate courses of yellow and black stone and the walls of the interior were a blaze of marble, gold and mother-of-pearl mosaic, the woodwork magnificently carved and painted, and the windows set with brilliant colored glass. The floors executed in imported marbles were also one of the wonders of the age. The great qa’ah was built by the architect Muh. b. al-Kuwayz stood for a long time after the rest of the palace fell in ruin in Ottoman times and was the place where the kiswah, covering the Kaaba in Mecca.

The destroyed Qasr al-Ablaq, the Palace of Sultan aI-Nasir Muhammad in the Citadel, from the Description de l’Egypte

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