Sultan Hassan Mosque & Madrasa


Built in 1356 AD, in Cairo

The Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa (school) was built in 1356-1363 AD. The mosque and madrasa were built during the Mamluk Period (1250-1517) by the Mamluk Empire under the rule of Sultan Hassan, but there are some accented parts of the mosque that were built in further periods. The madrasa, was introduced by Saladin, in order to conquer all non-orthodox Muslim sects. It is considered to be the most firm and compact of all the monuments in Cairo, and one of the most outstanding Islamic monuments in Egypt. Moreover, it is one of the largest Islamic buildings in the world. It was built for Sultan Hassan bin Mohammed bin Qala'oun. Since the main element of the Mamluk period was stone, the mosque emptied the vast Mamluk treasury because it is so colossal. Not only is it a mosque, but it is a school for all sects. The mosque is particularly famous for the cornices, the entrance, and the staircase. The school was designed for all four main Sunni sects: Sunni rites/Orthodox Muslims: Shafite, Malikite, Hanefte, and Hanbalite. It is located near the Citadel; Salah El Din Square. It is right next to Al-Rifai Mosque.

Mosque Plan/Map

Main Elements:

Artistic Details/Calligraphy:

The huge courtyard surrounds a domed ablutions fountain, which was built during the Ottoman Empire. Accented around the ablutions fountain, is beautiful Islamic calligraphy. There are four liwans/iwans; sitting rooms, around the courtyard. The rooms are designed carefully by red and black rims and are accented by hanging lamp chains. Each liwan/iwan belongs to one of the four Sunni sects schools of jurisprudence. Each madrasa has a liwan/iwan in front of it, and one of the liwans/iwans functions as a sanctuary. The mihrab and the minbar are located in the sanctuary liwan/iwan. The main colors of the minbar and mihrab are rich golds, blacks, blues, reds, and yellows, and are made out of marble in addition to stone. Moreover the columns holding the mihrab in the qibla liwan/iwan indicated they were taken by the Crusader (1095-1291) buildings in Palestine as a trophy. Around the qibla liwan/iwan is a type of Islamic calligraphy representing Quranic verses called Kufic letters. There are also several carved wooden, bronze doors in this liwan/iwan. All around the walls in the sanctuary liwan/iwan is carefully detailed Islamic lettering. One unique detail in the mausoleum of Sultan Hassan, is that not only are the walls leading up to the ceilings carved and carefully done, but is that way for a reason; the prayer is projected by the echo made by the specific design presented. The floor in the courtyard is made out of marble, and there is a specified color for each the carpeting on the floor on each liwan/iwan. The ablution fountain is a wooden dome highlighted by gold calligraphy. The Sultan Hassan Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the whole world; measuring 150m in length and covering an area of 7,906 sq m. The tallest minaret reaches 68m, while the walls reach 36m. The detail on each element of the most is not only one of a kind, but beautifully designed.

Islamic calligraphy and extremely detailed design on the mihrab.
This shows a detailed design on the mosque wall.

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Selected colors and Islamic calligraphy on the top of the mihrab, along with Islamic geometric forms.
Ceilings and form of the praying area inside the mosque.

Traditional Mamluk stone patterning on the outside wall of the Mosque.
This represents the degree of engraving this stone piece into the wall. This also shows the great artistic detailing in the pattern.

Entrance to the Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa.
Islamic calligraphy across the walls in the sanctuary liwan.

Architectural Elements and their Fuctions:
  • Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa includes many architectural elements such as the minaret, mihrab, minbar, the main space which includes four liwans/iwans and their schools, and an ablution fountain, and a courtyard. All the elements of the mosque aren't only for architectural reasons, but they function as different features that add up to the mosque. Again, these elements include the following:

Minaret: The minaret is a tower-like formation that is part of the mosque and is used for the Muezzin to call the faithful for prayer 5 times a day. One function of the minaret is that air is drawn up through it from the dome of the mosque's windows.

  • Originally, there was a plan for there to be four minarets; one at each corner of the mosque, but this idea faded away after a minaret by the entrance collapsed killing several of hundreds during 1361 AD. Currently, there are two minarets, but one is the one most used and the bigger one. One of them was built during the Ottoman Period in the 17th century. However, the bigger, most beautiful one is the original one which is 81.6m high. This truly remarkable minaret is located in the southern corner of the eastern liwan/iwan. This element makes the monument even more remarkable and elegant than it already is.

Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa to the right of the picture with two minarets, and Al-Rifai Mosque to the left of the picture.
Two minarets of the Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa. (Taller one to the right of the picture, minaret built during Ottoman period to the left).

Mihrab: A niche in the wall that points to the Kaa'ba in Mecca, the direction of the Qibla (where the faithful should face whilst praying).

  • The mihrab of the sanctuary liwan/iwan in the mosque is very detailed in rich colors such as reds, golds, yellows, dark blues and blacks. Moreover, the Islamic calligraphy (Kufic letters) on it signifies the attribution of the period it was built in; the Mamluk period, and also signifies the importance of that period because of the color scheme and detailing. The columns holding the mihrab up were probably from the Crusader (1095-1291) buildings in Palestine as a trophy. The main components of the mihrab are stone and marble, though it was also built with other elements. The gold touches and detailing adds to the rich feel of the design. On top of the mihrab, is Islamic calligraphy engraved and carved into the walls.

The rich colors are represented in the mihrab.
Mihrab in the sanctuary liwan/iwan, surrounded by Islamic geometric shapes and Islamic calligraphy.

Minbar: Pulpit raised by stairs, object that is usually in traditional mosques. It is used for the Sheikh who is the Imam to recite a (sura), or verse from the Qur'aan during the prayer, and also leads the prayer.

  • The Mamluk Period was famous for using stone to build objects, and this tradition is present in the minbar design. The carpet surrounding the minbar changes from time to time, and also depending on which liwan/iwan you are in. The main colors of the minbar are tinted beiges browns, oranges, reds, blues, and golds. The mosque's color scheme sticks to these colors which indicate the colors available and used during the Mamluk Period.

Mihrab leading to the direction of the Kaa'ba, and the minbar; where the Imam goes to recite a 'sura', or verse from the Qur'an.
Stone minbar that stands high for the Imam to recite 'suras' from the Quraan and lead prayers.

Main Space: The main space includes four sections for the schools, and the four cornered liwans/iwans. Also, in the middle of the space is a big ablutions fountain. Hanging from the ceilings of the mosque are hanging lanterns. The hanging lanterns might be a more modern touch added to the mosque and madrasa after the Mamluk rule was over. There is also a space inside the mosque where prayer goes on.

  • Mausoleum: Made for a burial space. There is one bronze door leading to the mausoleum. Since Sultan Hassan's body was never found, his sons remains are buried there instead. There are lamps surrounding the tombs centered in the middle creating an imaginary ceiling to the room. There is a special design so that when a sheikh is reciting a verse, the echo fill the air in the room. On top of that, the Islamic formations and motifs carved on to the walls represent the Mamluks origin. The stone/wood on the wall shape a dome so that an echo is made. Most of the pieces in the Mausoleum are made out of thick and strong stone and marble which represents how the Mamluks built it during their period. The main colors of the mausoleum are rich browns and beiges, but there are highlights of reds, and golds. The windows inside the dome bring extra light in addition to the lamps in the room.

This shows a portion of the main space with hanging lanterns.
Mausoleum: Burial area.

Ablution Fountain: Large fountain typically in the courtyards mosques, in which Muslims cleanse themselves as a purification ritual before each prayer.

  • The ablution fountain is also made out of stone, like most of the other elements in the Mosque. The Islamic calligraphy (Kufic letters) around the dome area signifies the power the Mamluks had. Also, the rich detailed 'window-like' pieces along the sides of the fountain show Arabic artistic geologic forms. There are long columns probably made out of stone holding the dome shape up. These columns also show that they were probably from the Crusader (1095-1291) buildings in Palestine as a gift. Not only does the dome area show Arabic/Islamic geologic forms, but also covers the fountain so neither heat nor sunlight may enter.

Beautiful dome shaped ablution fountain in the center of the courtyard, or main space of the mosque.

*Any pictures that are not linked with sites are pictures that I took myself.
1) "Egypt: Cairo: Mosques - The Sultan Hassan Mosque & Madrasa." Egypt Travel, Tours, Vacations, Ancient Egypt from Tour Egypt. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2010. <>.
2) "Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa - Cairo, Egypt." Sacred Sites at Sacred Destinations - Explore sacred sites, religious sites, sacred places. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2010. <>.
3) Kamel, Seif. "The Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan." Egypt Travel, Tours, Vacations, Ancient Egypt from Tour Egypt. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2010. <>.
4) "Sultan Hassan Madrassa and Mosque ." Egypt Travel Information | Egypt Trips | Tours to Egypt | Egypt Holidays| Egypt tour | Travel advice to Egypt | Egypt Travel Guide | Visit Egypt . N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2010. <>.
5) "Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa - Cairo, Egypt." Sacred Sites at Sacred Destinations - Explore sacred sites, religious sites, sacred places. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2010. <>.
6) "Sultan Hassan mosque | Cairo | Travel Story and Pictures from Egypt." Travel Pictures and Stories | Travel Adventures Around the World in 80 Clicks. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2010. <>.

Every inch of the Sultan Hassan Mosque and Madrasa is carefully designed and plotted by the Mamluks, although there are some additional pieces that were built during the Ottoman Empire. Each piece of patterning, Islamic geometric shapes and Islamic calligraphy are beautifully printed in a way that signifies the importance of the Mamluk Dynasty and their control over Egypt during the period this exquisite monument was built.

Architecture Islamic,
Art work -EGYPTIAN Mosque

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