Mohamed Ali Mosque: An architectural legend


At one point in time, Mohamed Ali Pasha held all the aces: he had got rid of his Mamluk rivals, separated from the Ottoman Empire, and snatched several victories from the jaws of defeat.

But what he did not see in the cards was that the rule of his dynasty that had lasted for 145 years would be terminated by a group of Egyptian military men calling themselves “the free officers”.

Those officers are the ones who carried out the glorious 23 July revolution in 1952.

Who was Mohamed Ali?

Mohamed Ali Pasha was born in the city of Kavala (now in Greek Macedonia) in 1768 AD.

His father was a commander of a small provincial military force that was maintained by the governor of Kavala, and left him to his uncle Thompson Agha to raise.

When his uncle died he was brought up by the governor, Al-Shorbagy, who was a friend of his father.

He joined the Ottoman army in his youth, showed outstanding courage, and was promoted to the rank of Bolukbashi (commander of a battalion).

Later he married one of his relatives and worked in trade until 1801 AD.

Mohamed Ali

Mohamed Ali then joined the Ottoman navy built by the Sultan to drive the French army out of Egypt.

He participated in the Abu Qir naval battle against the French and enjoyed a fine reputation after the victory of the Turkish army over the French in the Al-Rahmanya battle.

After the French left Egypt in 1801, he was promoted to the rank of general and head of a battalion division of 4,000 Albanian soldiers.

Khesro Pasha, the new Ottoman viceroy, sent him to Upper Egypt to fight the Mamluk troops. When Mohamed Ali arrived late to Upper Egypt, Khesro Pasha thought of stabbing him in the back in order to get rid of him.

But Mohamed Ali learned about his schemes and formed an alliance with Othman Al-Bardisi, the leader of the Mamluks, and managed to depose Khesro Pasha in 1803.

With his political insight, he succeeded in fostering a relationship with the people and their leaders.

However, after that Egypt plunged into turmoil that ended in a siege of Khorshid Pasha, the Ottoman ruler, inside the citadel.

The people, who loved Mohamed Ali, demanded that Ottoman Sultan make him the viceroy of Egypt. The sultan agreed and he was appointed the ruler of Egypt in 1805 AD.

From the beginning of his rule, he began to renovate the Salah Al-Din Citadel in order to make it his headquarters.

He established ministries for economy and warfare, and built palaces and schools.

Mohamed Ali felt a strong need to build a mosque for prayer and, at the same time, a burial place for himself to commemorate his achievements, so started building a mosque in 1830 AD, on the ruins of some Mamluk buildings.

He tasked the Turkish engineer Yousef Boshnaq with designing the mosque, reflecting the style of Sultan Ahmed’s mosque in Istanbul, though with a few changes.

Mohamed Ali mosque in 1845

The mosque is located in the north-west corner of the citadel. The building process went on without stopping until Mohamed Ali died in 1845 and he was buried in the tomb he had made for himself.

Salah Al-Din Citadel

The design of the mosque

The mosque, as a whole, is a rectangular building and is divided into two parts. The first is the eastern part which is built for prayer. The second is the western part which is a yard, in the middle of which there is a fountain for ablutions.

The Mohamed Ali Mosque was designed by the same architect who designed the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (photo: wordpress)

The mosque was built with a central dome surrounded by four small and four semi-circular domes. It was constructed in a square plan and measured 41 x 41 metres. The height of the building is 52 metres. There are also four other smaller domes at the corners of the mosque.

The walls inside the mosque are covered with marble alabaster. The large dome and the semi-circular ones are adorned with gold-coloured motifs.

The large dome and the semi-circular ones are adorned with gold-coloured motifs

The inside view of the dome is breathtaking (photo: arabtravelers)

Two elegant cylindrical minarets in the Turkish style are situated on the western side of the mosque, and rise to 82 metres.

There is a brass clock tower in the middle of the north-western arcade, which was a gift given to Mohamed Ali by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845.

The brass clock tower in the middle of the northwestern arcade was a gift given to Mohamed Ali by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845

Within the mosque are two minbars, or pulpits.

The original (and larger) one of wood is decorated with gilt ornament, incorporating significant gold in its decoration.

The smaller one of alabaster was a gift from King Faruq in 1939. The mihrab, or prayer niche, is made of Egyptian marble. It is rather simple, but very beautiful at the same time. The mosque is illuminated by exquisite crystal chandeliers.

The mosque has two minbars, or pulpits

The pulpit is decorated with gilt ornament, incorporating significant gold in its decoration

The entrance to the pulpit

Egyptian marble is used throughout the mosque (photo: mekshat)

The mosque is illuminated by exquisite crystal chandeliers

The mosque has three entrances, on the north, west and east walls.

The western entrance opens onto the courtyard. The courtyard is surrounded by rounded arcades carrying small domes. These domes are supported by large, though relatively simple marble columns.

The courtyard is almost square, measuring 54 by 53 metres, with a northern and southern entrance from the mosque.

In the middle of the courtyard is a marble ablution fountain with a carved wooden roof on columns. The fountain is lavishly decorated with gilded motifs.

The fountain outside the Mohamed Ali Mosque is especially ornate (photo: wordpress)

The marble ablution fountain has a carved wooden roof on columns

In the southwest corner of the sanctuary, within an enclosure richly decorated with bronze openwork, is the magnificent, white marble tomb of Mohamed Ali.

The tomb of Mohamed Ali (photo: panoramio)

The tomb of Mohamed Ali (photo: panoramio)