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Egypt’s Historic Suleiman Pasha Mosque Reopens After Five-Year Restoration

September 20, 2023
Suleiman Pasha Mosque interior. Photo credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

The Suleiman Pasha Al-Khadim Mosque, also known as the Sariyat Al-Gabal Mosque, was officially inaugurated on Saturday, 16 September, after five years of being closed to the public for restoration work.

Situated in the Salah Al Din Citadel in Cairo, the historic mosque was constructed in 1528 under the patronage of the Ottoman governor of Egypt, Suleiman Pasha Al-Khadim.

The inauguration ceremony was presided over by Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Ahmed Issa, and attended by Cairo Governor, Khaled Abdel-Aal; Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Mostafa Waziri; and Vice-Governor of Cairo, Gihan Abdel-Moneim.

The restoration project was initiated in 2018 and was successfully completed with approximately EGP 5 million (USD 161,000), as reported by the Ministry.

Egypt’s First Ottoman-Style Mosque

The Sariyat Al-Gabal Mosque was built upon the remains of a former Fatimid mosque constructed in 1140. During the Ottoman period, the mosque served the Janissaries, an elite unit of the Ottoman armies that conquered Egypt in 1517.

Suleiman Pasha Mosque interior. Photo credit:Wikimedia Commons.

Sariyat Al-Gabal is renowned as Egypt’s earliest example of Ottoman-style mosque architecture, characterized by its domes, semi-domes, pencil-shaped minarets, and ceramic tiling.

The mosque consists of a prayer hall, a Quranic school (kuttab), and a mausoleum featuring an open central courtyard of colored marble surrounded by four domed porticoes. When constructing it, Suleiman Pasha drew inspiration from the mosques of Istanbul, such as the Suleymaniye Mosque.

The mosque’s main facade faces southwest and features a prominent portal with stone steps leading to the entrance. A distinctive pencil-shaped minaret with muqarnas-adorned balconies and a green-glazed, tile-paneled central dome are among its key architectural features.

To stimulate Egypt’s vital tourism industry – a significant source of foreign currency – the government has restored important sites in Cairo’s historic district, which is home to numerous prominent Muslim, Jewish, and Coptic landmarks.

According to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, government spending on these restoration initiatives has doubled, reaching USD 3 million (EGP 92 million) in the current fiscal year, compared to USD 1.5 million (46 million) in the previous fiscal year.

In addition, the ministry reported an extraordinary fivefold increase in ticket sales for Egyptian heritage sites.

The restoration efforts of Suleiman Pasha Al-Khadim Mosque involved reinforcing and cleaning the stone facades, refurbishing the minaret, and restoring the distinctive marble cladding on the walls.

Suleiman Pasha Mosque interior. Photo credit:Wikimedia Commons.

Additionally, measures were taken to treat and strengthen the mortar layers in the mosque’s domes, and the exposed courtyard was also carefully restored. The restoration also involved removing added plasterwork, cleaning masonry, and repairing the mosque’s walls, woodwork, and other decorative elements.

In addition to the mosque restoration, Issa revealed plans for developing the surrounding area at the Saladin Citadel. These plans include constructing restaurants, cafés, and additional parking areas within the citadel premises, all aimed at enhancing the overall tourist experience.

Waziri highlighted that the restoration was a self-financed project carried out by SCA restorers using modern scientific techniques, adhering to the original mosque design.

The effort aligns with similar initiatives to restore important cultural and religious landmarks in the country, including the Sayida Nafisa Mosque, the Al Hakim Mosque, and Ben Ezra Synagogue.

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