The Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan in Cairo is one of the largest Islamic religious buildings in the world.
Built between 1356 and 1363 by the Mamluk ruler Sultan Hassan, the scale of the mosque is so colossal that it nearly emptied the vast Mamluk Treasury. Historians believe that the builders of this mosque may have used stone from the Pyramids at Giza.
Early in construction, some design flaws in the colossal plans became apparent. There was going to be a minaret at each corner, but this was abandoned after the one directly above the entrance collapsed, killing 300 people. Another minaret toppled in 1659, then the weakened dome collapsed.
The early history witnessed by the mosque was as unstable as its architecture: Hassan was assassinated in 1391, two years before completion, and the roof was used as an artillery platform during coups against sultans Barquq (1391) and Tumanbey (1517).
The Mosque of Sultan Hassan is one of the largest mosques in the world, measuring 150m in length and covering an area of 7,906 sq m. Its walls rise to 36m and its tallest minaret to 68m.
Visitors enter the complex through a tall portal that is itself a work of art. A dark and relatively low-ceilinged passageway leads to the brightly lit sahn, a standard cruciform-plan open courtyard.
The courtyard centers on a domed ablutions fountain, which was probably an Ottoman addition. Soaring on four sides of the courtyard are vaulted liwans (sitting rooms), accented by hanging lamp chains and red-and-black rims.
Each liwan is devoted to one of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence. Skilfully fitted between and behind each liwan is a madrasa, complete with its own courtyard and four stories of cells for students and teachers.
One of the liwans also functions as a sanctuary, containing the mihrab and minbar. It is distinguished from its roughly-plastered counterparts by soft-hued marble inlay and a band of Kufic script.
To the right of the minbar in this room is a bronze door, exquisitely decorated with radiating stars in gold and silver, which leads into the mausoleum of Sultan Hassan. Its location benefits from prayers to Mecca and overlooks the Sultan's old stomping grounds on Midan Salah al-Din.
The mausoleum, covered by a restored dome supported on stalactite pendentives, is quite beautiful, particularly in the morning when the rising sun filters through grilled windows.
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