I first visited the Ibn Tulun mosque in 2005, again in 2006, and again this afternoon. Sitting in the central courtyard’s ablution fountain (or domed sabil) I remember why this mosque is my favourite in Cairo. Its walls are so thick that once inside them you don’t hear Cairo’s streets anymore – a welcome respite, even in scorching hot weather.
The mosque was built for Ahmad Ibn Tulun, son of a Turkish slave of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun, and founder of Egypt’s Tulunid Dynasty (868 – 905 AD). It is heavily influenced by the Samarra style, Samarra being Ibn Tulun’s home. The mosque’s original inscription slab identifies the date of completion as 265 AH, or 879 AD, making it arguably the oldest mosque in Cairo still in its original form.
In 2006 the minaret was closed off and I had to pay one of the caretakers to unlock the door at the base. This time round the tourist police at the main door of the mosque informed us that the minaret was open. If you get the chance to go all the way up, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the surrounding district and the citadel. As well, you’ll see lots of graffiti on the walls of the minaret – some written in with ink, others carved into the walls (I had time to take in the graffiti, as I needed a five-minute break after climbing those stairs, which to be fair, weren’t a severe climb, but dehydration and 40 degree heat don’t help). But before you climb all the way up to the minaret, be sure to climb out onto the first floor of the mosque, but hang on to your animals and children or they’ll fall off the open edges! The most memorable aspect of the mosque for me has always been the crenellations. The first time I saw them in 2005 the first thought that came to mind was, “Oh, Keith Haring figures!”
But what immediately struck me as a third-time visitor to this calm oasis in the midst of a very dense and congested district is the evident decaying condition of the mosque. I remember a couple of months ago visiting the Citadel, and the Sultan Hassan and Rifa’i mosques for a third time as well and thinking how dilapidated they all appeared, compared with the last time I visited.
Is it just my imagination, or are these important mosques in Cairo not being suitably taken care of?
(For more information on the Ibn Tulun mosque, visit this “Tour Egypt” site)