EGYPT – Islamic Cairo: The historical Muizz Street and Al-Rifai & Sultan Hassan Mosque

Islamic Cairo consists of several areas in the old city core. I have shared already my experiences at the Citadel. Now I will take you to the Al-Rifai and Sultan Hassan Mosque which are best visited in the morning. Lunch can be taken at one of the hotspots in Cairo I wrote about earlier. After an early lunch you can explore the historical Muizz Street which runs through Cairo. It’s a beautiful old street with many heritage buildings. Join me on a journey through Islamic Cairo.

Islamic Cairo: Sultan Hassan Mosque

First a general note on visiting Mosques. Dress moderate and remove your shoes. Clothing is provided in the important mosques in case you need it but in Egypt I experienced quite some flexibility. Both the Sultan Hassan Mosque and the Al-Rifai Mosque are located next to the old citadel of Islamic Cairo. The mosque of Sultan Hassan was constructed in the mid-14th century and is one of the largest mosques in the world till present day. The mosque is of particular interest as all four schools within the Sunni Islam were taught there. Another interesting fact is that it has only three minarets as the fourth fell down during construction killing many people. It was said this was done by the hand of God and therefore never to be reconstructed. If you enter the mosque you will notice a beautiful decorated entrance with carvings made by artists from all corners of the Mamluk empire.

 

Just after the entrance is a beautiful decorated marble hall. From there a passage way goes to the courtyard of the mosque. Each of the coves on each side represent one of the schools taught at the Sultan Hassan Mosque. Beautiful lamps hang from the ceiling with in the front an altar. In the middle of the courtyard is a fountain which was added later. A visit takes not more than an hour depending on how quick you walk through it. It’s interesting to just sit down for a moment; away from the crowds of Cairo.

Islamic Cairo: Al-Rifai Mosque

Just opposite the Sultan Hassan Mosque you can visit the Al-Rifai or Royal Mosque. It’s one of the more modern buildings in Islamic Cairo. It was constructed in the late 19th century and completed in the early 20th century to complement the Sultan Hassan Mosque. It was built as a place for Sufism (a mystical part of the Islam) and as a mausoleum for the tombs of the royal family of Egypt. The mausoleum is in the back (if you enter from the Sultan Hassan Mosque side). Parts of the mausoleum are normally closed but ask around in the mosque if a visit is possible and if you are lucky like me it is. Important tombs are those of the last king of Egypt and the last Shah of Iran. The mausoleum of the Shah of Iran is always open for visits and located in a beautiful room made out of marble. It’s an impressive place to visit.

It’s a beautiful mosque but most impressive are the tombs and Sufism related rooms and relics. They are decorated in different colors of marble stones. After exploring this beautiful historical mosque it was time to go for lunch. Have a look at my top 6 hotspots for lunch and dinner in Cairo to see where to go. There are some options within Islamic Cairo to taste the local food.

Islamic Cairo: Muizz Street

After lunch it’s time to visit Muizz Street; the oldest street in Cairo. The southern part (the Mosque of Sultan al-Muayyad and Bab Zuweila) I visited the day before together with the Citadel of Cairo. Today the northern part was on the agenda which has the most important places of interest. I started at the Al-Hussein Mosque which is one of the holiest Islamic places in Egypt and for sure in Islamic Cairo. It’s believed by various movements within the Islam that the head of Husayn ibn Ali is buried on the site. He was the grandson of Muhammed. In the mosque the most important room to visit is the tomb, also called a zarih. It’s a beautiful decorated tomb and I recommend visiting it. Make sure you dress moderate, especially for women and make sure to enter through the correct entrance: women or men.

Next up the Muizz Street of Islamic Cairo is the Qalawun complex. To get there you need to cross the souks so if you need souvenirs stock up there. Make sure you get the price down; if you manage correctly you should not pay more as 20-25% of the asking price. The Qalawun complex is a beautiful example of the Mamluk architecture. You buy a ticket here which is valid for most of the other buildings in Muizz Street too.

The complex consists of a hospital, a madrassa or school and a mausoleum. The first entrance leads to the mausoleum of Sultan Qalawun which is a beautiful room decorated with marbles and wood. Fine carvings decorate the walls. The dome has three stained glass windows inspired by European style cathedrals. I have been to several mausoleums and must say this one is for sure one of the most beautiful ones I have seen.

 

Next to the mausoleum is the Madrassa (school) of Al-Nasir Muhammad. Its named after the youngest son of Sultan Qalawun. One interesting item in the mosque is the mihrab; a small cove in the wall facing mecca. It’s beautiful decorated as is also the minaret. Just look around and admire the beautiful Islamic architecture from the Mamluk reign. In all the buildings it’s allowed to make photographs. So have your camera ready, or an iPad like this Muslim couple.

The remainder of the street has several other buildings of interest. The Sabil-Kuttab of Katkhuda is a building providing fresh water and a kind of elementary school in past time. You can visit a bathing house and the house of Mustafa Jafar. Two other mosques which are worth visiting are the Aqmar Mosque (if I remember correct only men) and the Al-Hakim Mosque at the end of the street. The street is also a great place to see the locals at work or just relaxing for the next customer.

I didn’t see any other Westerners around Muizz Street. The locals smiled to me; tourists are rare. Due to all the turmoil in the Middle East tourism decreased rapidly (I visited in February 2015). Once you finish exploring Muizz Street walk back to El Lord Café for an afternoon tea. I covered this café in the 6 hotspots in Cairo to visit. It’s a bit touristic but has a great atmosphere and you can watch the locals and get in touch with them. I think it was around 8 PM that I went for dinner and arrived back quite late this day at my hotel. It was a long day with lots of new impressions. I’m sure you will enjoy Islamic Cairo as I did. Make sure to read my 9 day Cairo itinerary to plan your trip to Cairo. For now enjoy the gallery!

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Did you visit the Old Islamic town of Cairo too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Islamic Cairo

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.