The Muhammad Ali Mosque, also known as the Alabaster Mosque, is one of Egypt’s most significant and visible mosques.
Situated within Cairo’s Citadel, the mosque stands as a bold declaration of Egypt’s de facto independence during the reign of Muhammad Ali Pasha. Its towering twin minarets, colossal piers, and large central dome surrounded by four semicircular domes offer an animated silhouette against the city’s skyline.
The mosque’s architectural style, heavily inspired by the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, is a blend of the Ottoman style with echoes of the previous Mamluk dynasties.
Muhammad Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt, chose to erect this great mosque as a symbol of his defiance against his former overlords, the Ottomans, and the Mamluk palaces he destroyed to make room for it.
The mosque’s construction began in 1830 and was finally completed in 1848. It was a defiant declaration of Egypt’s de facto independence, as the mosque showed signs of architectural styles that were different from the traditional Ottoman and Mamluk buildings.
The mosque follows a square plan, a common feature in many mosques built during the Ottoman period. The central dome rises to a height of 52 meters (171 feet), flanked on all sides by four smaller domes, or semi-domes, each adorned with lead-covered domes.
The main dome, surrounded by four semicircular domes, is supported by colossal piers on the corners. The prayer hall, under the main dome, is surrounded by multiple half domes. The exterior walls of the prayer hall and the central dome are decorated with shallow, semicircular domes, creating a unique pattern of light and shadow.
The mosque’s interior is adorned with Turkish-style arches standing on thick piers. The upper walls and domes are decorated with intricate Islamic art, while the lower parts of the walls are clad in alabaster, giving the mosque its popular name, the Alabaster Mosque.
The Twin Minarets
Two minarets, each with two balconies and conical caps, rise on the western side of the mosque, adding to its grandeur. The minarets, each around 82 meters (269 feet) high, are the tallest in Cairo. They are designed in the Ottoman style, with cylindrical shafts, multiple balconies, and conical caps.
The Exterior Walls and Facades
The mosque’s exterior walls are built with limestone, while the facades are adorned with vertical and horizontal courses of smooth stone. The external facades are articulated with arched riwaks rising from the base to the top.
The mosque has three entrances, the most prominent being the northeastern gate, which leads directly to the prayer hall.
The Prayer Hall
The prayer hall, located under the central dome, is a vast square room with a central open space surrounded by four arches. The arches, supported by colossal piers, create a sense of grandeur and space.
The prayer hall’s southeastern wall, or qibla wall, is adorned with a mihrab, a niche indicating the direction of Mecca. The mihrab is made from Egyptian marble and is intricately decorated with geometric patterns and calligraphy.
The Tomb of Muhammad Ali Pasha
Located on the right side of the entrance, the tomb of Muhammad Ali Pasha is a key feature of the mosque.
The tomb is carved from Carrara marble, gifted by the French King Louis Philippe in exchange for the obelisk that now stands in Place de la Concorde in Paris. A copper clock tower, also a gift from Louis Philippe, is located in the central courtyard, although it has never functioned since its arrival.
The Architectural Influence and Style
The architectural style of the Muhammad Ali Mosque is deeply influenced by the Ottoman style, particularly the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. Yet, it also incorporates elements from the Mamluk architectural tradition, making it a unique blend of two distinct styles.
The mosque’s central dome surrounded by four semicircular domes is a prominent feature of Ottoman architecture. However, the mosque’s square plan and the use of alabaster, a material abundant in Egypt, are reminiscent of the Mamluk era.
The mosque’s design, with its central dome rising above four semicircular domes, creates a symmetrical and balanced structure. This symmetry extends to the two minarets standing tall on either side of the mosque. The domes, semi-domes, and minarets together create an animated silhouette that is easily the most visible mosque in Cairo’s skyline.
The Interior Decoration
The interior of the mosque is as impressive as its exterior. The walls up to 11 meters (about 36 feet) high are covered with alabaster, hence the name “Alabaster Mosque.” The upper walls and domes are decorated with intricate Islamic art, painted in vibrant colors and gilded. The arches standing on colossal piers are adorned with verses from the Quran, beautifully calligraphed.
The mosque’s prayer hall, under the large central dome, is surrounded by multiple half domes. The central dome rises to a height of 52 meters (171 feet), creating a sense of grandeur and space. The prayer hall’s southeastern wall, or qibla wall, is adorned with a mihrab made from Egyptian marble, intricately decorated with geometric patterns and calligraphy.
The Courtyard and Clock Tower
The mosque’s courtyard, or sahn, is a large open space surrounded by arched riwaks. The sahn is paved with alabaster and features a central ablution fountain, which is not original to the mosque but was added by King Fuad.
A notable feature in the courtyard is the copper clock tower, a gift from the French King Louis Philippe in exchange for the obelisk that now stands in Place de la Concorde in Paris. Unfortunately, the clock has never worked since its arrival in Egypt.
The Mosque Today
Today, the Muhammad Ali Mosque is not only a place of worship but also one of Egypt’s most popular tourist attractions. It offers visitors an insight into the country’s rich architectural heritage and a glimpse into the era of Muhammad Ali Pasha, considered the founder of modern Egypt. The mosque also serves as a symbol of Egypt’s defiance against its former overlords, the Ottomans, and a testament to the country’s de facto independence.
Despite the passage of time, the Muhammad Ali Mosque continues to dominate Cairo’s skyline with its towering minarets, large central dome, and four semicircular domes. Its blend of Ottoman and Mamluk architectural styles, its grandeur, and its historical significance make it a must-visit site for anyone interested in history, architecture, or Islamic art.
The Muhammad Ali Mosque, with its large central dome, four semicircular domes, twin minarets, and alabaster-clad interior, is a testament to Egypt’s rich architectural heritage.
It stands as a symbol of Egypt’s defiance against its former overlords and a monument to its founder, Muhammad Ali Pasha. Today, the mosque is not only a place of worship but also one of Egypt’s most popular tourist attractions, offering visitors a glimpse into the country’s rich history and architectural grandeur.
FAQ about Muhammad Ali Mosque
What was the purpose behind the construction of the Muhammad Ali Mosque?
The Muhammad Ali Mosque was erected in honor of Tusun Pasha, Muhammad Ali’s eldest son, who passed away in 1816. The mosque, coupled with the Cairo Citadel, stands as a landmark and a major tourist attraction in Cairo.
What is the cost to visit the Citadel in Cairo?
The entrance charge for the Citadel in Cairo, which includes access to the Muhammad Ali Mosque, is 180 EGP (approximately $11.24). For students, the fee is reduced to 90 EGP (about $5.62).
Who is credited with the construction of the first mosque in Islam?
The first mosque in Islam is believed to be the original house of Prophet Muhammad in Medina, current-day Saudi Arabia. This structure, made of mud-brick, served as the blueprint for future mosque architecture.
Who was the first Prophet to establish a mosque?
Prophet Muhammad is credited with building the first mosque, his original house in Medina, present-day Saudi Arabia.
Who is the architect of the Muhammad Mosque?
The Muhammad Mosque was constructed by ustad-rais Muhammad, the son of Abu Bakr, in 1078/79 (471 Hijra), as indicated by an Arabic inscription on the northern wall of the mosque.
What is the historical background of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali?
The Mosque of Muhammad Ali was built by Muhammad Ali Pasha as a symbol of defiance against his former overlords, the Ottomans, and the Mamluk palaces he destroyed to make room for it. It stands as a bold declaration of Egypt’s de facto independence.
What is the entry fee for the Mosque of Muhammad Ali?
The admission fee to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali is included in the ticket to the Citadel, costing 180 EGP (approximately $12) or 90 EGP (approximately $6) for students.
Who constructed the Prophet’s Mosque, and when?
The Prophet’s Mosque was built by Prophet Muhammad in 622 AD upon his arrival in Medina.
What is the design of the dome of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali?
The central dome of the Muhammad Ali Mosque, measuring 21 meters in diameter and 52 meters in height, is supported by four large arches resting on four square piers. This main dome is surrounded by four semi-domes, with an additional semi-dome above the mihrab.
Did Prophet Muhammad build a mosque?
Yes, Prophet Muhammad built the Prophet’s Mosque, also known as Masjid Nabawi, in Medina in the first year of Hijrah.
What architectural style characterizes the Mosque of Muhammad Ali?
The Mosque of Muhammad Ali showcases Ottoman architecture, characterized by its large central dome, four semicircular domes, and twin minarets.
What is the cost to visit the Saladin Citadel?
The standard adult ticket price for the Saladin Citadel is 140 EGP, while students can enter for 70 EGP. This fee only includes access to the Saladin Citadel and its panoramic viewpoints.
What is the importance of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali?
The Mosque of Muhammad Ali symbolizes Muhammad Ali Pasha’s Ottoman identity, military prowess, and religious authority. It was built in the classical Ottoman style within the citadel, serving as an iconic symbol of his rule.
Why did Prophet Muhammad construct a mosque?
Prophet Muhammad built the first mosque in Medina to establish a place of worship for Muslims, reflecting his desire to define a place for congregational prayers.
Why is the Mosque of Muhammad Ali considered significant?
The Mosque of Muhammad Ali holds significance as it embodies the three pillars of Muhammad Ali Pasha’s rule: Ottoman identity, military power, and religious authority. Its location within the citadel and its classical Ottoman style make it a symbol of his reign.
Which mosque in Cairo is a must-visit?
The Muhammad Ali Mosque, located in the Citadel of Cairo, is a must-visit site. Originally built as a palace for Muhammad Ali Pasha, it later became a mosque and is now the most visited mosque in Cairo.