Al-Azhar Mosque


Al-Azhar Mosque shot from the "Khan" showing Aqbaghawiyya and Qaytbay minarets
Al-Azhar Mosque shot from the “Khan” showing Aqbaghawiyya and Qaytbay minarets and the double-doored Gate of the Barbers.

On Thursday, February 19, 2009 I wanted to go to the Al-Azhar mosque and the Coptic Church of St. Mary – The Hanging Church. The hotel concierge discouraged me from going; she didn’t think I could get in. I asked her about taking the subway back to Tahrir Square from Coptic Cairo and was advised not to attempt it. As these were the two places I most wanted to visit in Cairo, I decided to try anyway. I got a taxi to Khan al-Khalili from the Hotel Cairo Marriott, arriving at about 3 PM – 30 minutes before Asr prayers. I was immediately invited to tour the mosque by a local, so off came my shoes in the passageway and in we went.

Al-Azhar close up, showing the beautiful carving
Al-Azhar close up, showing beauty in the details

My guide took me in and showed me inside the Aqbaghawiyya madrassa. Al-Azhar, founded in 972 AD, is one of the world’s most important centres of Islamic theology and boards students from all over the world. It has two madrassas.

Inner view of a minaret
Inner view of Qaytbay minaret
Mihrab in Madrassa 1
Mihrab in Madrassa 1
Mihrab in Madrassa 2
Mihrab in Madrassa 2
Madrassa Ceiling 1
Madrassa Ceiling 1
Madrassa Lamp
Madrassa Lamp

 

Guide in Courtyard
Guide in Courtyard
Prayer Hall - Old Section
Prayer Hall – Old Section – 1000 years old

 

Framed script hanging from a pillar
Framed script hanging from a pillar

Arabic script comes in many different styles. Perhaps one of you readers can explain what these panels, in a large wooden frame on a pillar in the prayer hall, mean. Arabic is read from right to left.

Minbar (pulpit) next to the main mihrab (prayer niche) in the moaque's main hall. with unphotogenic backpack and sandals. The mihrab
Minbar (pulpit) next to the main mihrab (prayer niche) in the mosque’s prayer hall.

The presence of someone’s backpack and sandals didn’t add to the aesthetics of this photo. The entire, huge prayer hall, the centre of Egypt’s devotion for over a millennium, is carpeted like this.

Kufic script adorns this arched window
Kufic script adorns this arched window

Many of the archways in Al-Azhar are framed in a form of script developed by priests in Kufah, an Iraqi city formed in the second decade of the Islamic era. Our guide pointed out this window with great respect. Low light necessitated using my low resolution camcorder to take this still. We walked out into a beautiful courtyard. He then asked me if I wanted to climb one of the minarets, so we entered through a locked courtyard door, and when we came out on a roof the Asr prayers started. My guide sang as we walked.

Al-Azhar from roof. The Katkhuda Minaret is seen here.
Al-Azhar from roof. The Katkhuda Minaret is seen here.

We didn’t climb to the top of the minaret, but I was able to see the courtyard below this wall and out across the street to the Khan al-Khalili bazaar, much quieter during the day. I was told that on Friday, the following day, there would be thousands of worshipers here. Hearing the beautiful singing of the prayers made the visit much more vivid.

Courtyard From Roof
Courtyard From Roof
Khan al-Khalili from roof
Khan al-Khalili from roof

 

To give you an idea of how meditative the music can be when sung well, here is the singing of the Opening of the Quran, from Chapter One.

Having visited one of Cairo’s most holy places, I was ready to visit, hopefully, another in a more ancient place: Coptic Cairo. The Church of Saint Mary, called the Hanging Church because it is built on top of the twin towers of a Roman fortress built in 98 AD by Emperor Trajan. The centuries caused the original fortress to be buried in thirty feet of soil. I took a taxi from Islamic Cairo to Coptic Cairo. Coptic Cairo is the subject of a future post.

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Author: mytiturk

Travelbug Minstrel: Strum for my supper, croon for my cuppa Search for a sign, write for my whine

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