Spiral View

Ibn Tulun, Cairo, Egypt

The Cairo city skyline as seen from the top of the spiral minaret at Ibn Tulun mosque, featuring the mosque of Sultan Hassan on the left and Citadel of Saladin on right
The View

Touring Egypt 31: Cairo is full of mosques (as mentioned in previous posts). One of the oldest and most historically significant is the mosque of Ibn Tulun. Whereas the mosque of Sultan Hassan remains a working house of worship, ibn Tulun is now mostly a preserved historic site. (Ibn Tulun remains a house of God, but most religious observances have now moved to a more modern mosque immediately adjoining the historic site.) As it happens ibn Tulun is also home of another minaret that tourists can climb (like most things, in return for a small donation to the attendants on-site). Like the view reported in a previous post from the minarets over the city’s Bab Zuwayla gate, this site also offers a spectacular view of the city skyline, featuring the mosque of Sultan Hassan and the Citadel of Saladin. (This being the reverse-angle view from Bab Zuwayla, in this shot the Sultan Hassan mosque is on the left and the Citadel on the right.)

The historic Ibn Tulun mosque is beautifully restored and preserved. It features a large open central courtyard, surrounded by arched and covered arcades. At the center of the square stands a beautiful central sahn (washing fountain). Just outside the central walled arcades stands a famous spiral minaret, its namesake pattern made by a staircase that winds around the outside of the tower. The minaret was built by the Mamluks on a pre-existing square base and said to be modeled after the previously unique spiral minaret in Baghdad (the center of the Islamic world of the time). The minaret is open for tourists to climb (in return for a small donation). During the climb one can enjoy fabulous views of Cairo, as well as access to the roof of the arcades below and the parapets of the ornate walls.

Lamps hang in the arches of the prayer arcades at ibn Tulun mosque in Cairo, Egypt.

The more modern mosque next door dominates the foreground of this view of old Cairo from the top of the spiral minaret at Ibn Tulun.
In the Fore

An attendant rests in the shade of the covered arcades at the Ibn Tulun mosque in Cairo, Egypt (photo release is available).
Prayer Arcade

The arcades of Ibn Tulun are particularly impressive. Within the cool, shaded arcades, the mosque features a number of devotional features including high arched openings near the ceilings to amplify and carry the imam’s words out of the alcoves, as well as carefully spaced spectacular carvings in the arched corridors. While tourists wander, the attendants may take a seat to relax in the shade. (The man in the shot at right above was an off-duty attendant — not at prayer, but rather watching the members of my party as we scattered across the mosque floor. He gave permission for this photo.)

The central courtyard of the Ibn Tulun mosque in Cairo, Egypt, features an ornate central washing fountain (sahn) and unique spiral minaret.
God’s Courtyard

(Top photo [“The View”]: Nikon D200, Nikkor wide-zoom lens at 24mm, ISO 250, f/14 at 1/160 sec., with circular polarizing filter.)

(Upper right [“In the Fore”]: Nikon D200, Nikkor wize-zoom at 16mm, ISO 250, f/13 at 1/350 sec. with circular polarizer.)

(Lower left [“Prayer Arcade”]: Same camera and lens at 18mm, ISO 250, f/6.3 at 1/45 sec.)

(Lower right [“Arches”]: Same camera and lens at 29mm, f/4 at 1/20 sec.)

(Bottom [“God’s Courtyard”]: Same camera and lens at 22mm, f/6.3 at 1/1000 sec. with circular polarizer.)