The Mosque of Al Azhar is just one of many mosques in Cairo. After all, there is a good reason why Cairo is often referred to as the City of Minarets. Nonetheless but even so, the Al Azhar mosque still manages to stand out.
Cairo, the capital of Egypt, is most famous for its pyramids and other ancients attractions such as it’s many temples and etc. The city is also home to countless mosques; some quite new, and some which are hundreds of years old. In fact, there are so many mosques in Cairo, that some traveler even refer to the city as the City of Thousand Minarets.
With so many mosques, how could it even be possible for one or two to really stand out? The truth is however, some of the mosques in Cairo do stand out, albeit for different reasons. A prime example would be the Mosque of Al Azhar. In fact, the mosque is so beautiful, you would actually have a hard time not noticing it. However, beauty isn’t the only reason why people are fascinated by this particular mosque.
A Brief History Of Al Azhar Mosque
The Mosque of Al Azhar was originally built in 970 AD, which officially makes it one of the oldest of all the mosques in Cairo. Interestingly enough, it distinguishes itself even further by also being the oldest university in the world as well.
The mosque was named after the daughter of Muhammad, who was formally named Fatimah but who had the nickname of “Shining One” or Az-Zahra. While records show that the mosque was formally commissioned by the Fatimid Caliphate in 970 AD, the exact date of completion remains uncertain, and it is believed to have been completed before 989 AD.
The mosque is located in El Hussein Square, and adjacent to the famous Khan el-Khalili market. One of the endearing qualities of the mosque is its very distinct blend of the various architectural styles that appear throughout Cairo and Egypt. The university and the mosque have been expanded on a number of occasions over the years, and this has of course created even greater combination of styles.
The Mosque of Al Azhar As It Stands Today
The Mosque of Al Azhar has a total of five minarets; six entrances, and many gates leading into various courtyards. Despite it being known as the oldest university in the world, it’s worth bearing in mind that all university activities have now been removed from the actual mosque grounds, and today only worship services take place in the main building.
Visiting The Mosque
Because of the vast size of the complex, it is often a good idea to plan your visit in advance. You will want to enter through the famous “Barber’s Gate” where students once had their heads shaved. You will then enter the 10th century courtyard, which gives a clear view of three of the mosque’s minarets.
Most visitors are allowed access to the prayer hall apart from during prayer times and on holy days. The interior of the prayer hall is an incredibly impressive space which is filled with a seemingly endless number of alabaster columns and luxurious carpeting.
Sadly, the library which houses nearly 600,000 volumes is not open to the public. Fully guided tours are available from many of the students attending the university. These tours generally offered free of charge, but it is important that a tip is given to help support the students.
As with all mosques, women must remember that this is a purely Muslim environment and that it is necessary to cover the head, shoulders, arms, and legs when entering the Mosque of Al Azhar. Scarves are available at the main entrance, and this is also where all shoes are left during the visit as well.
This is a very popular destination for many travelers arriving in Cairo, and it is easy to reach via a taxi. With that having been said, many hotels and resorts also offer shuttle services to this world-class university and historical religious site as well.
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