Monuments Sight Seeing Attractions Refai Mosque
Monuments Sight Seeing Attractions Refai Mosque Salah El Din SquareDown Town, Cairo
El-Rifai Mosque is Cairo is one of the last monumental mosques to be built in Cairo that was built in an edifice worthy of the legacy left by Salah El Din and Sultan Hassan.
Refai Mosque Description
Al Rifai Mosque is a royal-era mosque occupying a land mark in Cairo’s Salah El Din Square, facing the twelfth century AD Citadel of Salah El Din and abutting the Mosque and Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, the Mamluk masterpiece built during the 1300s.
Despite El Rifai’s relative youth, this equally imposing mosque has made its mark on the capital’s history and heart.
Long before the mosque was built, the site held the shrines of important Sheikhs such as Sheikh Yahya Al-Ansary and Sheikh Ali Abu Shebak, grand son of the twelfth century Sufi Sheikh Ahmed El-Rifai, considered a wali or saint.
Followers of Al-Rifai frequented this humble yard to pay their respects to their spiritual leaders.
In 1869, Princess Khushyar Hanem, mother of Khedieve Ismail, ordered the yard expanded and a proper mosque built, including mausoleums for her and her family.
Encompassing more than 7,000 square meteres, the mosque was constructed in two phases, with the first phase based on the architectural plans of engineer Hussein Fahmy Pasha, a descendent of Mohamed Ali Pasha.
However, Fahmy died during the construction, so work was suspended for years.
The delay was further prolonged when Khedive Ismail stepped down as Egypt’s ruler in 1880 which coincided with the death of his mother.
Princess Khushyar was eventually interred in a tomb in the mosque’s northern section.
Work resumed in 1905 during the rule Khedive Abbas Helmi II, who ordered the second phase of construction under the supervision of Austrian engineer Max Herz Bay, then chairman of the committee for the conservation of Arab Monuments in Cairo.
In his committee role, Herz was tasked with preserving the capital’s Islamic architectural heritage, and he looked to the squares existing buildings for inspiration with the new mosque.
As a result, El Rifai Mosque melded the Mamluk style found in the neighboring Sultan Hassan with the European style introduced to Egypt by descendents of Mohamed Ali Pasha.
Finally inaugurated in 1912, El Rifai Mosque was designed to offset the enormity of Sultan Hassan.
The building rivals its Mamluk neighbor in sheer size with a façade that is 98 meters long and 72 meters wide.
The walls range from 26.5 to 33 meters in height to accommodate the site’s gentle slope.
The biggest and the most beautiful of the three mosque’s three entrances is the royal gate on the western side, overlooking a courtyard.
It is a high entrance flanked by towering pillars, crowned with a dome and arches adorned with muqarnas, three dimensional geometric carvings layering the inside of the curved portal roof like tiny stalactites’.
The other two main entrances are on the southern side, facing Sultan Hassan and flanked by two Mamluk-style minarets and an ornate dome in the center.
A smaller dome caps the prayer area, infusing the spacious hall with rays of natural light.
Small stained glass windows in a cruciform arrangement are framed by deeply inset pillar-supported arches that rise almost the entire height of the walls.
The 1,767 square meter prayer hall takes up the eastern half of the mosque, with marble pillars with gilded engraved cornices gracing each other.
The hall’s ceiling is equally ornamented with exquisite gilded carvings.
Throughout the mosque, the walls and mihrabs (niches indicating the direction of Mecca).