Mosque of Qajmas al-Ishaqi

The Mosque of Qajmas al-Ishaqi

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Ismail Abaza

Excellent views are found from the minaret of the Mosque of Amir Qijmas al-Ishaqi

When visiting Egypt, time simply seems to be less relevant to us. We view monuments made by man that date back as far as 5,000 years ago, so what would be our interests in a monument built only 500 years ago? Anywhere else on earth, we might indeed be interested in a medieval structure, but Egypt's great antiquity makes us almost numb to such buildings. In addition, many westerners in particular decide they have no interest in Islamic architecture, which dominates the late antiquity sites of modern Egypt. However, their beauty and workmanship are appealing, while their designs seem considerably exotic to us, so that like a great book, one need only read a page are two in order to become hooked.

The Mosque of Amir Qijmas al-Ishaqi (sometimes referred to as the Mosque of Abu Hurayba) is located on Darb al-Ahmar in old Islamic Cairo. It dates from the 15th Century, having been built sometimes between 1479 and 1481 AD by Amir Sayf al-Din Qajmas. It was restored in 1894 and again in 1982.

Amir Qijmas al-Ishaqi occupied several important posts during the Circassian Mamluk rule of Sultan Qaytbay. Qajimas, who was described as a pious, benevolent and highly respected. was "Master of the Horse", and was also put in charge of the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca. He also served as governor of Alexandria, a Grand Marshal, and prior to his death, viceroy of Syria, where he died in 1487. He was buried in Damascus, leaving his tomb chamber entered through the qibla liwan and located on the corner of two streets empty. It became the final resting place of Abu Hurayba, a holy man, in 1852, which explains one of the alternate names for this mosque.

Front facade of the Mosque  of Amir Qijmas al-Ishaqi

The Amir Qijmas al-Ishaqi complex is very near Bab Zuiwayla and it presents its most appealing facade when viewing it from that direction towards the Citadel. In fact, the minaret of this mosque presents a good view of Bab Zuwayla and the surrounding quarter. The mosque sits on a triangular piece of land, though the mosque has a cruciform layout, at the intersection of two streets, and therefore it provides a very good example of the ingenious ways in which architects of the late Mamluk period adjusted the various elements of a building to the available building site. In erecting this structure, they made maximum use of both street facades, whose various erections are unified by the decorations. Interestingly, the dome is unusually plain for a mosque of this period.

Note the simple dome on the mosque

The mosque, like others of this period, is built over shops which are continuous on all of the exterior faces. A sabil, which is a public drinking fountain that was often included in such structures, resides behind the grilled windows near the mosque entrance. It features beautiful marble inlay lintels over the windows. Here, if one looks closely at the knots of the grills it is possible to see the blazon of Qajmas, a composite that shows a napkin in the upper field with a cup charged with a penbox placed between "horns of plenty" in the middle, and a cup in the bottom field. The corner column is particularly well carved.

Just above the entrance to the mosque is a magnificent panel of ablaq (alternating red and white or black and white patterns) marble, consisting of a swirl of six leaf forms in red, black and white white with turquoise highlights. This seems to be a focal point for the marble mosaic lintels above the various windows. There are also Koranic inscriptions in the entrance. The door itself is adorned with a central medallion pattern in bronze, which apparently replaced a solid bronze facing of the early Mamluk period. Within the entrance, a square vestibule with a richly gilded ceiling surrounded by an epigraphic frieze is first encountered. Here, there is a latticed window between this room and the mausoleum. To the left is a somewhat remarkable sliding doorway with two halves that is not unlike modern examples. Through this entrance one passes into a corridor that is part light source and part ventilation.

In a reduced form, the interior of this mosque is a fine example of the typical Cairene evolution of the cruciform madrasa (Islamic school), with a covered courtyard (sahn) and small, lateral liwans. Because of the high standard of craftsmanship, it remains one of the most important ancient mosques of the Qaybay period. The decorations are extraordinary, with color harmonies of the marble paneling, the fine stone carving of the walls, and the splendid wood ceilings which are well decorated and gilded.

The Mihrab, which is a niche in the "qibla" wall indicating the direction of Mecca for prayers, is very interesting, as well as richly decorated using a new technique. Here, we find black bitumen and red paste fill grooved designs in white marble. This may have been because of a shortage marble during this period, but it was also used to achieve a more sinuous and compact effect. Near the center of the mihrab within a mirror image cartouche, the artist who created the mosque's decoration signed his work as "Made by 'Abd al-Qadir the designer: (or engraver al-Naqqash). Close by is the minbar, which is basically a raised pulpit for the prayer leader. It has a central stairway with raised boss, and is geometric in design.

The floors within the mosque are also notable, though one must ask the custodian to lift the mats in order to see them. They are paved in excellent marble panels, and the flooring in the qibla liwan is particularly fine. Stained glass windows allow illumination within the mosque. Their colorful design which includes a cypress tree, suggest that they are a restoration from the Ottoman period.

Across the street from the mosque a sabil (fountain) and kuttab (elementary school for instruction on the Koran) was built. Such structures became an integral part of the planning of most monuments of this period. The kuttab was (at least up until recently) still used as an elementary school. This separate structure is attached to the mosque by a raised passage over the street. The mashrabiyya windows above the passage indicate that this area was intended as a residential unit for dependents and heirs.

See also:






Reference Number

Al Qahira

Sassi, Dino


Al Ahram/Elsevier

None Stated

Archaeological History of the Ancient Middle East

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Westview Press, Inc.

ISBN 0-88029-120-6

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Little, Brown and Company

ISBN 72-79364

Historical Cairo (A Walk Through the Islamic City)

Antonious, Jim


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977-424-497-4

Islamic monuments in Cairo: A Practical Guide

Parker, Richard B.; Sabin, Robin and Williams, Caroline


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 036 7

Mosque, The: History, Architectural Development & Regional Diversity

Frishman, Martin and Khan, Hasan-Uddin


Thames and Hudson LTD

ISBN 0-500-34133-8