Sunday, September 04, 2011

Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque

Al Ahram Weekly (Samir Sobhi)

Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque, whose history is sometimes overlooked by visitors, is one of Egypt's most important cultural and artistic treasures

Al-Azhar is one of the most serene places to pray in, and the area surrounding the mosque attracts both architect lovers and outgoing Egyptians and foreigners

There is no end to the architectural gems to be found in the Gammaliya, Al-Husseiniya, Saliba and Bab Al-Wazir areas of Cairo. In fact the entire district should be viewed as an open-air museum, with every second building seeming to be at least a few centuries old. Minarets carved in stone fill the skyline, and within the surrounding mosques, schools and caravansarays there are carved wooden embellishments, stonework and stained glass that make the mind spin.

Many people go to the Al-Azhar district of Cairo on a regular basis, either to relax in the company of friends in the 24-hour cafes or to introduce foreign visitors to the proud heritage of the city. However, more often than not there is little time to admire the details of all the buildings in the vicinity. Take the Al-Azhar Mosque itself, for example. The story of this building is well worth telling not only because it is one of the oldest mosques in Cairo -- only the Mosque of Amr in Masr Al-Qadima and of Ibn Tulun in Saliba are older -- but also because it has had the unusual distinction of serving as a school of learning for Islam's two rival doctrines: Shiism and Sunnism.

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