From 868 to 905 AD. Egypt was ruled by the Tolonid dynasty. Ahmed Ibn Tulun was originally sent by the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad to administer the region, but with the stability in Baghdad, he managed to establish himself as an independent ruler. Without the burden of tributes hitherto owed to Baghdad, the Tolonids developed a thriving agricultural activity with the renewal of infrastructure and raised a strong army. They also became known for their extravagant spending, and for building a new capital north of Fustat, called Al-Qatta'i. The Ibn Tulun mosque was built to celebrate the new capital.
In the early part of the 10th century, the Abbassids reasserted their control over Egypt and razed Al-Qattai as a reminder of their power. Only the mosque was spared and today this remains the only legacy of the Tolonid dynasty in Cairo. Consecrated in 878 AD, that of Ibn Tulun is also one of the best preserved ancient mosques for its original appearance among those present in Cairo. Furthermore, it is the largest mosque in terms of spatial extension.
Adding to its age and size, Ibn Tulun is a place of surprising charm. Built in the Samarran architectural style of Abbasid Baghdad, this mosque has no equal in Egypt or North Africa, characterized by a large internal courtyard leading to covered atria on three sides and a large covered area on the fourth slope towards Mecca intended for prayer. The uniqueness of the mosque is given by its characteristic helix minaret, inspired by the spiral minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra, built thirty years earlier. Today you can still climb its stairs and enjoy the spectacular view over the city.
Another peculiar feature of the mosque is given by the external walls. In Baghdad, these walls were intended to separate the sacred space of the mosque from the area in front of it. In Egypt, this type of structure was later filled by the homes of wealthy Egyptians, who had doors built within the mosque walls to give their homes direct and private internal access. Each of these houses has now been demolished and the entrance doors sealed, except for two doors which today constitute the entrance to the Gayer Anderson Museum.
Robert Gayer Anderson was a British colonial officer who lived in one of these houses during the 1930s, with permission from the Egyptian government. Gayer Anderson was an Orientalist and avid collector who filled her home with her own collections of art, furniture and carpets, while overseeing their restoration. When he left Egypt in 1942, he donated the entire contents of the house to the Egyptian government. The result is a fully restored heritage house which is now regarded as one of the finest examples of 17th century Cairene architecture. Recently, the house was used for the filming of a James Bond film, "The Spy who loved me".
Although visited by a relatively small number of tourists, these two sites are truly some of the most worth visiting in Cairo. Side by side, the masterfully restored mosque and museum give an unrivaled retrospective on the ancient city. Located around Sayeda Zeynab, both buildings are in close proximity to the Sultan Hassan Mosque and the Saladin Citadel, which makes a one-day tour that includes visiting them easier.
-The Amr Al Aas mosque is older, originally built in 641 AD, but rebuilt several times later.
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