Cairo is a unique location: it is the only place in the world where you can see architectural remains of nearly every great Islamic Empire. Not to mention that most of the sites are concentrated in geographically small area, making touring on foot very reasonable.
The Mosque of Ibn Tulun, built from 876- 879 under the Tulunid Empire, is the oldest intact, functioning mosque in Cairo. Further, it is huge, covering approximately 6.5 acres. This is one of the best examples of the classic congregational courtyard mosque design. This is the earliest mosque design, is derived from the layout of what became the first mosque prototype, the house of the Prophet Mohammed in Medina.
The design was influenced heavily by the Great Mosque of Samarra (located in Iraq, built 848-851), where Ibn Tulun received his military training. That said, this mosque’s use of bricks as a building material (rather than marble), arcades based on rectangular piers with engaged colonnettes in the corners (rather than columns), a spiraling minaret (the most striking similarity, both inspired by the shape of the Babylonian stepped ziggurat), and detailed stucco work are clear adaptations from Samarra.
What to look for during your visit
- Original inscriptions run along the arcades near the ceiling. These Koranic inscriptions are done on sycamore wood and are nearly 2 kilometers in length; at this length, it is estimated that the walls contain nearly 1/15 of the entire Koran.
- Stucco decoration lining the along the arches, interestingly, was created by pressing wooden molds into wet plaster.
- This mosque was the first to use the pointed-arch as part of a vast architectural complex; as a historical point of comparison, note that the pointed arches of this mosque pre-date those of the first French Gothic (an architectural movement synonymous with the point arch, among other characteristics) by more than 250 years!