Al-Azhar Mosque

Al-Azhar Mosque is located in Cairo’s al-Hussein Square, where there are many other Islamic monuments from the 10th century. It was founded in 970 by the Fatimid conqueror of Egypt Jawhar al-Siqilly (Gawhara Qunqubay, Gawhar al-Sakkaly). The mosque was named Al-Azhar after Fatima al-Zahraa, daughter of the Prophet Mohammed. As the first Fatimid monument in Egypt, al-Azhar was a meeting place for Shi'a students. Under Yaqoub Ibn Cals the mosque became a teaching institute. The first lecture was delivered in 975 AD, which makes al-Azhar the oldest university in the world. Today the university is in buildings adjacent to the mosque. In addition to the religious studies, modern schools of medicine, science and foreign languages have also been added. The Mosque is reserved for prayer.

The courtyard was originally enclosed with three arcades. In 1138 the Caliph al-Hafiz added an arcade along the fourth side. Above the qibla side arch is the earliest example of stained-glass in Egypt, also from 1138.

During the Ayyubid period (ca 1200), the rulers wanted the Friday khutba to be delivered from one mosque only. Al- Azhar lost its status as a Friday mosque, when the Mosque of al-Hakim, the largest mosque in the city, was chosen instead. In 1266 during the reign of Mamluk Sultan Baybars I, al-Azhar was restored and elevated to khutba status.

The mosque is a mix of all styles and influences that have passed through Egypt. Among the original decorations are stucco panels and a window screen in the original qibla wall. Bands of Kufic inscriptions are around some windows. There are six entrances, with the main entrance being the 18th Century bab el-Muzayinin (barber's gate), where students were once shaved. This gate leads into a small courtyard and then into a madrasa which was built in 1340 and serves as a library. The Qaitbay entrance was built in 1469 and is topped by a minaret. Inside is a large courtyard that is 275 by 112 feet which is surrounded with porticos supported by over three hundred marble columns. To the east is the prayer hall which is larger than the courtyard and has several rows of columns. At the northern end is the madrasa and mausoleum of Jawhar al-Sequili, which was built in 1440. The earliest examples of arabesque foliage carvings on the exterior surface of a stone dome in Cairo are found here. There are five minarets with small balconies and intricately carved columns.