Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mosques & Minarets: Jamaliya - A tour in the Fatimid District

When speaking of the Jamaliya district in particular, we must be aware that we are not touching upon Egypt’s history in the twentieth century or even the ninetieth century solely. 


The main enterance to the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo
Rather, we go several centuries back in history and walk in the same streets where caliphs, kings and princes from variant dynasties had once walked and ruled Egypt, leaving behind invaluable antiquities for generations to come.

The name Jamaliya is derived from Badr al-Jamali, the minister under the reign of Fatimid Caliph al-Mustansir. The Jamaliya district incorporates Al-Hussain and Al-Azhar mosques, Khan al-Khalili, Al-Ghawriya and other places located in such a historical place. However, the district’s residents and visitors do not use the name Jamaliya repeatedly in their daily dealings because each part of this street is famous by itself. 

If we wanted to learn more about the history and reality of Jamaliya district, then reading or listening the stories as narrated by the district’s residents alone will not be sufficient. Rather, touring the place, wandering among its streets and focusing on its walls and gates as well as the faces of its residents will be enough to make one sense the place. Yet, one could be hindered by the major obstacle here which is crowdedness.

Here, if we started the walk from Ataba St. through Al-Azhar St. until we reach the Pedestrian steal bridge that links the street’s two sides, then we would definitely be bewildered. In this place, Al-Muiz Street – the world’s longest historical street – branches out into eastern and western direction. 

Mohamed Bek Abul Dahab Mosque (photo: Blog Spot)
Starting with the shorter eastern part, we will see Al-Ghawri Palace, Sabil (drinking fountain), Kuttab “Qur’anic school” and Wekala “trade complex”, a place in which the Asala Centre for fostering crafts and traditional Islamic arts were established with the aim of reviving training on such crafts and saving them from extinction.

Once one steps into the street, the situation seems totally different. In spite of the overcrowded environment, a visitor must immediately smell the odor from past times, whether through the smell of incense all over the place, or the walls of old buildings or the handcarts of traditional Egyptian beverages such as Tamr Hindi, Sobya and Kharroub. 

However, those precious buildings are enduring some irresponsible behavior from those who have turned their windows into shop facades for their goods, the majority being clothes. On the right, our attention can be drawn to shops that are still selling fezzes until now. 

To the back of the shop, there is a large area akin to the terraces of old palaces that was designated for VIPs during the pre-revolution era in the 1950. In front of the shop, there is Al-Kahkien St. and Haret al-Zait where old cake, cookies and oil merchants used to settle.

Al-Azhar mosque
A few metres forward, one can see a new historical site. For example, to the right, there is Al-Fakahani mosque – previously known as Al-Afkhar.

In the middle of the street, there is the drinking fountain of Mohamed Ali, the founder of the Alawite dynasty, Al-Moayed Sheikh Mosque and Al-Saleh Talae mosque. The most wonderful thing in the place is Bab Zewaila gate after it was renovated and re-inaugurated recently. The gate seems to have regained its old allure, whereas the old huge metal gates are still there challenging time after past generations have gone and the gates remained a witness to the passage of all ages. 

Perhaps, a prominent thing to remember under the Zewaila gate is the execution of the Tatars’ messengers upon a decree by Sultan Saif ad-Din Qutuz. After you cross the gate, you can see from afar Al-Khyamiya St. with its unique colors and calmness thanks to the umbrella set on the street during the restoration process, thus giving the place a special tincture. We also notice that skillful artists are still capable of controlling their tools. For example, if you turned right or left, you will find an experienced craftsman holding a piece of cloth to adorn it using his fingers in deep concentration as if he lives in his own world.

Al-Azhar Mosque and Mosque of Abu Dahab in Islamic Cairo
Going deeper into the street, you will find the Al-Darb Al-Ahmer district. When arriving at Al-Azhar St., we will have two options: Either to use the upper pedestrians bridge to cross the place to the western part of Al-Muiz St. or turn right to Al-Azhar complex, the latter being better so that the tour is completed. 

On our way, we will pass by Mohamed Bek Abuldahab Mosque, which is currently closed. A few steps away, there lies the archeological Khan Al-Zaraksha. In spite of its great archaeological and architectural value, the founder of Arf Khan al-Zaraksha is unknown, as the original date was modified in a later stage.

Then, we arrive at the firmly-established Al-Azhar mosque, the age of which is tantamount to that of Cairo. Each period in Egypt’s history was recorded on Al-Azhar’s walls; from the Fatimids sunshade being the first part to be built in the mosque, to the Qaitbay Gate that reflects the Mamluk Dynasty’s interest in the mosque, to the Turks’ sunshade near the minbar and the qiblah that were built during the Ottoman Empire.

The sabil of Mohamed Ali
This is apart of the banners engraved on the mosque’s walls that provide evidence of Mohamed Ali Dynasty’s interest in Al-Azhar’s architecture and restoration in the 19th and 20th century. In the center of all of this lies the renowned minbar built in 970 CE. As for the first Friday prayer to be performed in that mosque, it was on 7th Ramadan 361 AH, 972 CE. The originators of the idea of building Al-Azhar are the Fatimids who sought to make the mosque serve as a center for the promotion of the Shiite ideology.

If we exit the mosque’s backdoor to wander behind it, we can see Bait (House of) Zaynab Khatoun and Manzel House of Al-Harrawi. Once again, we go backward to see the old pedestrian tunnel that links Al-Azhar mosque and the old Mashyakhat Al-Azhar (Al-Azhar administration) and from there we arrive at Saydna Al-Hussein square.

In Al-Mash’had Al-Husseini as well as in other streets of the district, we can see hotels and motels. As for the oldest hotel in the district, it is Al-Safa and Al-Marwa hotel that was constructed in 1901. 


Khan El Khalili at Night
Located in Khan Jaafar St., the hotel has historical importance as it was called Al-Clob Al-Asri (The modern lamp) when first built because a huge lamp was hung on the hotel roof to illuminate the surrounding area, and so comers from Mahatet Masr railway station could see the lamp from afar in Bab Al-Hadid square.

Of course, passing by Khan El Khalili is necessary in view of the fame the market gained internationally. The market was founded by Prince Jararkes Al-Khalili, one of the princes under Sultan Barqouq, who died in 791 AH (1389 CE).

In July 1511 CE, Khan El Khalili was torn down by Sultan Al-Ghawri who built shops and trade complexes instead, and constructed three gates to ease access to the market. All these facilities were torn down again and the entire market was rebuilt from scratch.

In the heart of the market, a coffeehouse was constructed and carried the name of world-famous novelist Naguib Mahfouz. There, also lies Al-Fishawi being the most renowned coffeehouse in Jamaliya and the entirety of Egypt, standing as a witness to the district’s history. Its owner, Fahmi Al-Fishawi, was a man known for his chivalry and was deemed the custodian of the entire place, and the coffeehouse was the headquarter he used to administer the district’s affairs.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.