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Architecture - Egyptian Saracenic

( Originally Published 1921 )



The Mosque of Amr, Cairo (A.D. 642), was erected by the two great building Caliphs, Abd-el-Melik and Walid, who utilised columns from Roman and Byzantine buildings to support characteristic Moslem arches. The open court, about 250 ft. square with central fountain for ablutions, has a single arcade on the entrance front and triple arcades on either side ; while on the side of the Mecca or mihrab wall the arcades are six in depth, stretching across the whole width, and all are at right angles to the mihrab wall, giving dignity and importance to the prayer space.

The Mosque of Ibn Tooloon, Cairo (A.D. 879) (p. 834 A, B), is of vast proportions and, although on similar lines to the Mosque of Amr, it marks an advance in the Saracenic style, and does not betray Roman or Byzantine influence as no columns are used. Their place is taken by built piers and angle shafts to support the pointed Saracenic arches, and all the arcades are parallel to, and not at right angles to, the Mecca wall. The whole construction is of brick faced with plaster, covered with Kufic inscriptions, enlivened with colour. The windows are entirely filled with intricate geometrical tracery, and the graceful minarets are reckoned the earliest in Egypt.

The Mosque of Kalaoon, Cairo (A.D. 1287), with its beautiful " founders' tomb " and lofty portal of black and white marble, is one of a series commenced at the end of the thirteenth century, a period marked in Europe by the great Gothic development.

The Mosque of Sultan Hassan, Cairo (A.D. 1356) (p. 834 C, D), differs from the normal type in being cruciform in plan and without columns or arcades. The central space measures 117 ft. by 105 ft., off which are four rectangular arms covered with pointed barrel vaults which had been introduced into Egypt at the time of the foundation of Cairo in A.D. 971. The southern arm contains the mihrab and beyond is the founder's tomb, about 70 ft. square, with a dome supported on stalactite pendentives. On either side are minarets, one being 300 ft. in height. The mosque is surrounded by walls, divided into nine storeys and crowned by a massive cornice, 100 ft. above the ground, giving the appearance of a fortress rather than of a mosque.

The Mosque of Sultan Berkook, Cairo (A.D. 1384), among the Tombs of the Caliphs, is famous for graceful domes over tomb chambers and for its minarets. The columned Mosque El-Muayyad (A.D. 1415) and the small but richly finished Mosque of Kait-bey (A.D. 1472) (p. 833 A, B), with elaborate minaret and internal fittings, ended the great Saracenic building age in Egypt, for the invading influence of the European Renaissance movement arrested its development (p. 832).



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