The Mosque of Muhammad Ali or Alabaster Mosque or Alabaster Mosque is one of the famous archaeological mosques in Cairo. It was established by Muhammad Ali Pasha between the period from 1830 AD to 1848 AD in the Ottoman style, similar to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. It is sometimes called the Alabaster or Alabaster Mosque due to the frequent use of this type of marble in the cladding of its walls.
The successors of Muhammad Ali Pasha took care of the mosque, so they completed the building and added some simple additions to it. They also made it a headquarters for the celebration of annual religious occasions. They were, in order, Abbas Hilmi Pasha I, Muhammad Said Pasha, Ismail Pasha, and Tawfiq Pasha.
However, the largest restoration process was during the reign of Fuad I, who ordered the mosque to be restored to its old splendor after its walls had cracks due to an engineering defect. His son Farouk I after him also took care of the mosque and opened it for prayer again after completing the restoration process.
The place where the mosque is built
The mosque was built in a part of the land of the Al-Ablaq Palace inside the Citadel of Salah al-Din, and it is currently one of the monuments of the Caliph district in Cairo, and adjacent to it inside the castle is the Al-Nasir Qalawun Mosque. Mahmoudiya, Qani Bay Al Ramah Mosque, Jawhar Al Lala Mosque.
The engineer who designed the mosque
Muhammad Ali Pasha asked the French architect “Pascal Coast” to design a university in the Citadel in 1820 AD, but the project was stopped.
Until the appointment of Muhammad Ali Pasha in the year 1830 AD to the Turkish engineer “Yusuf Bushnaq” to design the mosque, he quoted the design of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Astana, the horizontal projection, including the courtyard and the fountain, with some minor changes.
As for the painters, including Ali Effendi Musa, Sayyid Effendi Hamad, Muallem Abram, Hakkakian Effendi. As for the copper windows, they were painted by Usta Romi.
The stoners were Egyptians, including Usta Hussain, Hajj Ibrahim al-Anbaawi, and the sculptors were also Egyptians, including Hussain Muharram, Ibrahim Hassan, and it was decided that the Egyptian sculptors mayor to nominate eight of the most skilled craftsmen to choose them himself.
The marble works were carried out by Egyptian workers under the contract of Al-Khawaja Simon, under the direct supervision of Youssef Dia Effendi, Shakir Effendi, Captain Hedayat, and Al-Moallem Youssef.
Brass and gilded crescents were entrusted to Perun and Krabet. As for the cladding of the domes of the mosque and the obelisk of the two minarets with lead, workers were brought from Constantinople.
The mosque, in total, is rectangular in construction, divided into an eastern section intended for prayer, and a western section, which is the courtyard with a fountain in the middle, and each of the two sections has two opposite doors, one tribal and the other sea.
As for the eastern section, it is square in shape, the length of its inside sides is 41 meters, and in the middle is a high dome with a diameter of 21 meters and a height of 52 meters, above the level of the floor of the mosque. It is carried on four large arches and its ends rest on four square shoulders. A fifth covers the protrusion of the mihrab, unlike four small domes distributed in the corners of the mosque.
The thickness of the walls is basically 2.20 meters, and this thickness decreases until it reaches 1.90 meters in its upper parts. The walls are clad inside and out with alabaster marble sourced from the Beni Suef quarries, as well as the four shoulders covering the large dome up to a height of 11 meters.
The western wall occupies the bench of the muezzins, which is as wide as the mosque and is erected on eight marble columns, above which are arches, colored ceilings, and a copper fence.
And the mosque’s circles from the bottom of the windows wrote on its doorsteps from the inside, verses from the poem Al-Burdah. The direction of the qiblah is the mihrab built of alabaster marble, and adjacent to it is a marble pulpit that was added during the reign of King Farouk I, and near it is the old wooden pulpit, localized with gilded inscriptions, which is the largest pulpit in the Egyptian Islamic monuments.
The walls of the mosque were covered with white ornaments, above the marble cladding, with colorful and gilded inscriptions representing arches and flowers with a crescent in the middle, and alternately written on the sides of the dome: In the name of God, God willing, God bless.
The mosque’s decorations were not borrowed from the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, from which he quoted the design, but were borrowed from the decorations popular in Turkey in the eighteenth century AD.
In the western tribal corner is the tomb of Muhammad Ali Pasha, and a marble composition was placed around it, a gilded copper shrine that combined Turkish, Arabic and Egyptian decorations, and a marble plaque written in the Turkish language was installed on its tribal wall, which included praise for Muhammad Ali Pasha, the period of his rule and the date of his death.
On the two sides of the western side of the courtyard are two minarets 84 meters above the ground level of the courtyard, each 256 degrees to the end of the second cycle, unlike the obelisk staircase.
As for the courtyard, it is a large courtyard measuring 53 m x 54 m. It can be accessed through the door in the middle of the sea wall. Under it is a large cistern. It is surrounded by four arcades with arches carried on marble columns. They bear small domes carved from the inside and covered from the outside with lead panels like the big dome. And it has copper dials.
And in the circles of the iwans, 46 windows overlook the outside of the mosque from the sea, western and tribal sides. As for the eastern side, it overlooks the mosque. It has eight windows, topped by a marble frieze bearing the name of Sultan Abdul Majeed and inscribed on it verses from Surat Al-Fath in Persian calligraphy written by the calligrapher Sinclakh in the year 1262 AH.
In the middle of the court there is the ablution dome, which was established in 1263 AH / 1844 AD. It is built on eight marble columns. It bears arches that are prismed in octagonal shape. Above it is a flap with prominent decorations. The inside of the dome is decorated with inscriptions representing landscapes. Inside the dome is another marble octagonal dome with a crescent It is marble, engraved with reliefs of grape clusters, and has a colorful engraved style written in Persian calligraphy with the Sinklakh pen.
In the middle of the western portico of the court is a tower made of perforated copper and decorated with inscriptions and colored glass. Inside it is a ticking clock that was gifted to Muhammad Ali Pasha by King Louis Philippe of France in 1262 AH / 1845 AD. In front of the tribal and sea fronts of the eastern section are two arcades with marble columns bearing small domes, and the circles of the mosque and the courtyard are copper windows. It is hollowed out with decorative shapes, and a poem by Sheikh Muhammad Shihab al-Din is written on its doorstep, which started from the left of the sea door of the courtyard.
As for the sundial of the mosque, it is the work of Salama Effendi, the engineer, and the Qur’anic verses that were written on the doorsteps of the four doors were done by the calligrapher Amin Azmiri in 1267 AH / 1851 AD, and the work of the doors was completed in 1261 AH / 1845 AD, while the work on the large dome was completed in 1262 AH / 1846 AD.
The mosque was given the greatest care during the reign of King Fouad I, due to the serious defect that afflicted the building of the mosque, as the parts that distribute the loads in the building were weakened, and the stones of the legs of the arches crumbled under the weight of the large dome, and the contracts were pushed to the outer walls and tilted, unlike the cracks that Occurred as a result of the oxidation of the iron bonding to the cutting of the stones that built the mosque.
King Fouad issued his orders to form a committee of senior Egyptian and foreign engineers to examine the mosque and put in place a project for its reform, and that was on December 29, 1931. The complex consists in total of several independent towers and arches erected in certain proportions to bear the domes and arches, and the weight of the metal force reached 650 tons, and when it was completed, the first pickaxe was struck in the large dome and the surrounding small domes and half-domes on February 11, 1935.
During the restoration and rebuilding works, the arches and others of their original architectural sizes and dimensions were taken into consideration, with special armament. The same thickness of the old domes, which was 0.80 meters, was preserved by making hollow domes that retain the old shape and were decorated to be the exact replica of the old ones.
In order to achieve the process of matching between the ancient and modern design, multiple models of ancient decorations were preserved, and colored models were made before the demolition process, and drawings and photographs were taken of various types of decorations and lines, so the building with these works was rebuilt for the sake of architectural works in Egypt.
And the mosque was opened for prayer again during the reign of King Farouk I when he prayed the obligatory Friday prayer on Muharram 5, 1358 AH/February 24, 1939. Red, and made for it a copper door hollow with elaborate decorations, and wrote the name of the king on both sides.
Another aspect of King Farouk’s attention to the mosque is the restoration of the clock tower and the repair of the clock inside it, which has been idle for a long time.
In 2012, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities restored the carpets of the ancient mosque. In 2014, it also embarked on the completion of the clock tower restoration project.
In 2017, a campaign began to restore the mosque to its old splendor, which included cleaning the marble coverings in the courtyard of the mosque, removing dust from the decorations in the mosque’s fountain to bloom their colors and studying the decorations, and removing the new ones to re-apply it according to the current scientific methods.