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Photo Essay: The Al Azhar Mosque And Its Environs In Cairo

September 21, 2010
Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta

After the El Hussein Mosque, the Al Azhar Mosque was the next most venerated mosque in the country. I did not get a chance to spend much time in here as I would have liked as time was passing by and I needed to go check out the citadel as well. This mosque was built way back in 971AD but I am not going to repeat the wiki article here :). Do check out the fascinating history of this lovely institution.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

So turning back from the El Hussein Mosque, I see this sight. The Al Azhar mosque is on the left.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo 

So off I go towards the Al Azhar mosque passing an Abou Hamza restaurant. For me, Abu Hamza reminds me of a former night club bouncer - an Egyptian Sunni who is currently in prison in the UK for being, frankly, a nutter, a bit of a thief and a thoroughly hypocritical man.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

And then we have an Arabian and Indian restaurant in here. Neato, eh?

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

The road was lined with shops selling clothes. 

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

There’s the mosque from across the street. Four minarets, all made in different times. Lovely collection, mind you, they don't detract from the overall feeling of hoary antiquity.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

You cross the road via an underground tunnel and then come up on the other side of the road just in front of the entrance to the mosque.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Here is the barber gate, so named because at some time, barbers would sit here and barber the hair of the students. But more on this gate later. There was a police car parked in front with the policeman sleeping inside it. A significant number of policemen I saw were sleeping in the city. But I didn't go into the mosque directly, instead deciding to check out the outside and other parts of the mosque. So I turned right.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Beautiful walls with striped stone, but as usual very dusty. Could have done with a good scrub I would have thought.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

There you go, now you know that you are in the El Azhar Mosque. I wonder what chabah means? And sometimes I read Al and sometimes El. Wonder what’s the significance?

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

A butcher’s shop was just behind as well. With skin, hooves and other unidentified bits floating around. Nothing is wasted.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

This is the alleyway behind Al Azhar. Beautiful buildings, and this is supposed to be the booksellers alley (Diagon Alley?). And this was absolutely heaving with booksellers and book binders and and and. What a wonderful place for a bibliographer.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Melons piled up higgledy-piggledy all over the pavement.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

The houses were also constructed out of the ubiquitous striped stone with lovely mashrabiya windows peeking over the busy street.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Some of the even narrower alleyways on the right away from the mosque. I wonder what the banner says.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

The walls of the mosque have these lovely stone plaques on the wall with highly stylised Arabic writing on them. Can you imagine the intricacies of actually carving something like this in unforgiving stone? One slip of the hand and you have ruined it all. Also, the sheer antiquity of the building is shown up on how the darker stones have weathered away compared to the whiter stones. It gave a beautiful look to the building.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

The El Mokhtar Bookshop. With boxes full of books. None were in English I am afraid so I wasn't able to even comprehend.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

This is supposed to be a basin of Al Suitan Qaitbay. No idea what this is about, as Icouldn't find anything on the net, but if its a basin, then presumably it would be a sabil of some sort. He is supposed to be a huge patron of arts and architecture in the city.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

This is one of the pencil minarets on another part of the al Azhar complex. A simple Ottoman-era, two-storied minaret. Looking down, I noticed this rather sad manky looking kitten behind the fence.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

This is the gate on the north side of the complex which seems to be closed and unused. 


Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

The closed gate has the same decoration as the barber gate, with a beautiful arched and highly carved dome on top. I just love the tall double-panelled windows with the circular window on top. Just looks beautiful indeed with the columns on each side. The striped stone lintels also add to the overall beauty of the window.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

I loved the sun protector on this parked car. Giant snicker bars, lol.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Booksellers on the street as well. I dived into a bookbinders and was sniffing away to glory, it just smelled divine! 

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo
Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

The photographs show a warmly lighted workshop and three rooms. The middle room is the main room with beautifully carved book cases on both sides filled with notebooks and other stationery which needs binding. The room on the left is where they actually do the book binding, I could see the printer typeset racks on the far end, the screws and casts. One day when I grow up, I will learn to be a book binder. It's just so wonderful to imagine restoring a book to a pristine condition, lovingly making sure that the tatty book again has a new set of clothes and knowing a new set of happy eager hands will again read those words, cradled in a new binding. Wonderful. The room on the right is more of a storeroom with more books piled up.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Another bookseller, again all the books were in Arabic so no fun gun. Also, the chap was looking very unfriendly indeed so I didn't pop into the place.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

A fried food seller. I just had my lunch so was not feeling hungry particularly, but gosh, those things were smelling very nice indeed.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

A bread seller. She got very excited when I clicked her photograph. Can you see her wagging her finger at me? Goodness, I scarpered from there quickly and entered the mosque proper.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Lovely entrance.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

A close up of the three-storied minaret, the bottom two stories are octagonal with the characteristic Mamluk highly carved columnar construction with balconies, while the top story is a circular one, again with a balcony.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

The top of the doorways were the familiar half moon with the stalactite formations which are supposed to represent water-bearing clouds.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

The windows are covered by these iron frameworks, all made by hand, can you imagine making this? Good Heavens, imagine the artistry involved when there were hardly any good modern tools available.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Ah! Now we have three different types of stones in a striped formation, wavy even.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Stained glass windows, surrounded with stone-carved panels. 

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

A closeup of the doorway, the bottom end shows stone fascias with a blue stone now. Also there were highly carved Arabic sayings on the panels. This is brilliant fine artistry on display. You won't find such fine work in Ancient Egyptian work, no wonder people say that Islamic Cairo is better than Ancient Egyptian Cairo. But I suppose it's a matter of taste.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Moving inside the mosque, the marble flooring gleamed. 

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

And I saw a surprisingly large number of people in there, usually sitting around. Presumably they were the students. I did not go too far into the mosque as I had other things to see, but looks good.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo
Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Some more detail of the fine architecture of the windows, the corners and the minaret. 

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

Here is the barber gate in detail. Just look at the wonderful panels all over. The panel on top with carved Arabic sayings, the panels below with painted plants, shrubs and more Quranic sayings. A closeup of the central panel shows the even finer work with flowers, vines and geometrical panels.

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo 

A seriously ancient lamp was outside, now sadly rusting and the glass broken, but it was really beautiful. 

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

A chimney outside was belching out white smoke with pigeons fluttering around. 

Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo Al Azhar Mosque,Cairo

There was a perfumery and he had these cute little pots hanging outside.

Here is the slideshow with more photographs and bigger resolutions.

Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta works in the city of London in various capacities in the financial sector. He has worked and travelled widely around the world. The articles in here relate to his current studies and are strictly his opinion and do not reflect the position of his past or current employer(s). If you do want to blame somebody, then blame my sister and editor, she is responsible for everything, the ideas, the writing, the quotes, the drive, the israeli-palestinian crisis, global warming, the ozone layer depletion and the argentinian debt crisis.
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Photo Essay: The Al Azhar Mosque And Its Environs In Cairo

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Author: Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta

 

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