Mosque of Amir al-Maridani, Cairo, Egypt

The Mosque of Amir al-Maridani was built in 1339-40 for Amir Altinbugha, the saqi (cup-bearer) and son-in-law of al-Nasir Muhammad. This mosque is located in “Darb al-Ahmar” neighborhood, on “Bab-Al-Wazir” street, a prominent 14th century thoroughfare that runs from “Bab Zuweila” to the Citadel, where several Mamluk complexes pack one next to another accentuating the magnificent architectural style of its distinguished buildings. The mosque has a hypostyle design identical to that of al-Nasir Mosque, and its outside walls are adorned in Mamluk architectural style.

It was one of Cairo’s most lavishly ornamented mosques at the time of its construction, with the first fully octagonal minaret and enormous dome, among other architectural advances. It has a domed, nine-bay maqsura in front of the mihrab and is a hypostyle mosque with marble columns supporting pointed stone arches. Recessed panels capped with stalactites embellish the outside facades. Its history and opulence are inextricably linked to al-life Maridani’s and status, as it was erected with the help of his father-in-law, Sultan Muhammad, and considerable contributions from al-own Maridani’s wallet.

The mosque’s mihrab

One of Sultan Al-Nasir Mohammed’s sons-in-law, Amir Al-Maridani, built a mosque in the traditional hypostyle style, similar to Al-Nasir Mohammed’s Mosque on the Citadel. The land for the mosque was once a burial area in Cairo’s Tabbana district; in the Islamic year 738 (1337–8 CE), al-Maridani purchased the land for the monarch and commissioned the mosque. A tiered exterior layout successfully overcomes the divergence between the street alignment and the interior, which is oriented towards Mecca.

The sultan appointed al-mu’allim (the teacher) al-Suyufi as his master builder and supplied 15,000 dirhams worth of wood and marble for the mosque. The mosque’s construction began in 739/1338-9, and the mosque’s entire cost exceeded 300,000 dirhams. The Sultan is said to have taken a direct role in the mosque’s construction, donating building supplies, as he did with another son-in-law, Amir Aqsunqur. The Aqsunqur or Blue Mosque, his mosque, is located further down the same street.

The mosque has a hypostyle design identical to that of al-Nasir Mosque, and its outside walls are adorned in Mamluk architectural style. It was one of Cairo’s most lavishly ornamented mosques at the time of its construction, with the first fully octagonal minaret and enormous dome, among other architectural advances. Al-Maridani contributed a substantial amount to the mosque’s construction, as he was seriously ill throughout it and hoped to make it as memorable as possible.

Much of the original decor can still be found in this mosque. Between 1895 and 1903, the French Committee renovated it. Almost every available material and technique were used at the period, including marble incrustation, stucco, and wooden and stone carving. However, due to the limits of urban building, the mosque is not rectangular. The northeastern corner, in particular, was designed to avoid encroaching on Tabanna Street or a nearby little alley. The courtyard facades are made of marble, stone, and stucco.

Like the arcades, the marble columns support pointed arches with stone voussoirs framed by a continuous molding that forms a loop above the keystone of each arch. A row of alternating keel-arched niches and medallions runs above these arches. A lozenge is placed above each medallion. The niches, medallions, and lozenges are all carved in stucco. A line of stepped crenellation adorned with arabesques carved in stucco runs along the summit of the courtyard facades.

The mosque has three entrances, with the west entrance on the same axis as the prayer niche and the main entrance on the mosque’s north side; each is in the shape of an iwan with a pointed arch and is topped by a faience mosaic medallion. Like many other religious buildings, the interior of Al-Maridani Mosque is shifted at a separate angle than that of the street alignment by a stair-step arrangement in order to orient it towards Mecca. The main entrance is a deep recess with a muqarnas cresting, marble paneled, and beautifully decorated. Mamluk architecture is characterized by joggled door lintels and narrow windows framed by colonettes.

The outside walls are embellished with recessed panels with two windows and stalactite hoods; a Quranic inscription band runs along the top. The west entrance is adorned differently, with muqarnas pendentives in the ablaq method of alternating light and dark stone courses ornamented with a dawn motif. Between the pendentives, a medallion with a smaller medallion in its center is decorated with tile mosaics. The south entrance is entirely undecorated.

The mosque’s minaret

The minaret’s shaft is totally octagonal, and it is topped by a pavilion made up of eight slender columns with a bulb atop a muqarnas cornice. Around the west and south entrances, the remaining wall pieces are basic and windowless. The mihrab, which protrudes slightly into an otherwise thin outside wall, buttresses the main wall. The mosque’s interior features a central open courtyard encircled by four arcaded chambers known as “riwaqs,” which feature pointed stone arches supported by marble columns. A row of alternating keel-arched niches and medallions may be seen above those arches, with a lozenge form above each medallion.

The stones are framed with a continuous molding that forms a loop on the keystone of each arch. The minaret’s buttress is made of a different stone than the remainder of the mosque, implying that this piece of the wall was rebuilt. A stunning wooden carved fountain in the shape of a domed, little pavilion-like roof sits in the centre of the arcaded courtyard. The fountain was normally designed to permit a number of worshippers to wash simultaneously under running water before prayer.

The eight columns that support the dome, on the other hand, are all the same size and have ancient Egyptian capitals, indicating that they were most likely imported from Upper Egypt. The magnificent wooden Mashrabeyya screen dividing the main prayer hall Qibla that runs along the summit of the courtyard facades is a distinctive feature of this mosque. It adds a striking unusual element to the mosque nearly not at all seen in any of Cairo’s other mosques. The qibla wall is adorned with gilded stucco remnants and epigraphic bands with trees in the center. These trees are one of the few remaining naturalistic elements in Mamluk architecture.

The first stage’s square shaft has been reduced to nearly nothing, serving solely as a transitional region between the mosque and the minaret. The mihrab is built of polychrome marble and features little niche friezes on the sides with blue-glass colonettes bordering the upper edge. The dome, over the mihrab area, is slightly smaller than the dome of the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque, and has similar gilded and painted wooden pendentives. The windows in the transitional zone between the ceiling and the dome are one oculus over two bays with plaster arabesque grills filled with colored glass.

On the rooftop, tourists can get the best view of the mosque, its courtyard, and the minaret, as well as several other neighboring landmarks. Al-Maridani Mosque is one of the most notable mosques from the Mamluk era (1250 AD – 1527 AD), which left behind a rich architectural legacy of multipurpose complexes that merged religious, burial, educational, and other activities.

Information Sources:

  1. archnet.org
  2. touregypt.net
  3. wikipedia