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AL Azhar Mosque ( 359-361AH/970-972AD )

Al-Azhar Mosque established in 972 (361 H) in a porticoed style shortly after the founding of Cairo itself, was originally designed by the Fatimid general Jawhar El-Sequili (Gawhara Qunqubay, Gawhar al-Sakkaly) and built on the orders of Caliph Muezz Li-Din Allah. Located in the center of an area teaming with the most beautiful Islamic monuments from the 10th century, it was called "Al-Azhar" after Fatama al-Zahraa, daughter of the Prophet Mohamed (Peace and Prayers Be Upon Him).

The mosque was the foundation for Cairo’s architecture to be started by Gawhar, which aimed at having a place for preaching the new shi’ite sect in Egypt, and also to function as a mosque compound adequate for the status of the caliph.

It was built originally on a rectangular shape of about 88 m. X 70m in the form of central courtyard surrounded by three covered areas. In 524 A.H. / 1129 A.D. the Fatimid caliph Al – Hafiz li-din allah ordered the addition of a riwaq to encircle the courtyard, as well as the addition of a dome in front of the intersecting aisles. In 665 A.H. / 1266 A.D. the mamluk sultan Al-Zahir Baybars completed the renovations & reparation of the mosque after it was neglected as a result of its closure when prayers were prevented inside – during the Ayyubeds period – in order to counteract the shi’ite sect by severing relations between the people & the Fatimid. During the Bahri mamluks period two madrasas (schools) were add to the mosque, one was the taibarsiyya madrasa which was established upon order of prince Ala al-din Taibars in the year 709 A.H. / 1309 A.D. & the second was the Aqbughawiyya madrasa by prince Aqbugha in 740 A.H. / 1340 A.D. the Circassian mamluk, prince Gawhar al-Qunuqbai ordered a third madrasa to be built in 854 A.H. / 1440 A.D. & during the region of Qayttbay he ordered the constriction of a huge gate leading to the mosque yard, with a minaret on it’s top. Sultan El – Ghuri ordered the addition of another minaret next to the former one.

The present plan of al-azhar mosque consists of a rectangular courtyard completely surrounded by covered areas the largest is the qibla wall which consists of the original covered area of the mosque – the old riwaq & the once adjacent to it which is one step higher than the former one. At the front of this covered area is a mihrab of which nothing remains but it’s top hood with it’s stucco decorations, it’s lower part & it’s adjacent wall have all been renovated & covered with white marble & a band of gilded decorations was added. At the top of this covered area there are three domes, one is on the top of the square area facing the mihrab & the other two are on it’s corners.

Analyzing the plan of the mosque we find the mosque’s element encircle a central spacious courtyard noted to have occupied about half of the mosque’s area before adding the new covered area & the madrasas. The ratio between them is 1:2.27 or half of the area of the Fatimid mosque. This large open area has helped in providing natural lighting for the interior of the covered area.