Although the Citadel is just down the street, it actually takes a longish bus ride to get to the spot where we enter the complex. Of course, the fortified walls of the Citadel extend for over two miles, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you can’t just wander over and enter. Besides, the bus ride highlights how large an area this complex really comprises.
The site of the Citadel has been occupied since 810. It was enclosed and fortified in the 12th century to protect it from Crusaders – and some of those fortifications can be seen today.
Despite the size of the fortifications, the complex is dominated by the Mohammed Ali or “Alabaster” Mosque.
Not that the Alabaster Mosque is the only intriguing structure here. There are several other mosques located within this complex as well, including the Mosque of Nasr Mohammed with it’s distinctive tower.
However, the Alabaster Mosque is by far the largest and it is what we are here to see today.
The mosque was constructed in the mid-19th century in the Turkish style. It has two slender minarets that reach 270 feet into the sky, towering over the 170 foot central dome. From the outside, it is an imposing structure.
We start our tour in the vast open courtyard that serves as the prayer hall.
The sunny space features an elaborate fountain watched over by an elaborate clock tower – a gift from the King of France. (Or maybe it was more of a tip for services rendered, as Louis-Phillippe got an obelisk in exchange.) The clock tower looks like something that should grace a 19th century government building or train station and seems out of place here.
The courtyard is a lovely space, but I am simply awestruck as I enter the sanctuary.
Before me lies a vast open room with brilliant red carpet on the floor, rings of lights, and elaborate chandlers. I’ve never seen anything quite like this before and I’m at loss for a comparison, although a guidebooks describes this space as having a “Rococo-style décor reminiscent of a theater interior.” That is pretty close.
It isn’t until I enter the room that I look up far enough to see that the interior of the domes towering far above are gorgeous, carefully painted in lovely colors and stunning detail.
What a wonderful space in which to worship.
There is an elaborate mausoleum containing the body of Mohammed Ali tucked into a corner of the mosque. Unlike the rest of the room, this corner is dark and the mausoleum seems almost to be cowering in its shadowy corner.
Outside in the brilliant sunshine once again, I want to dawdle, marveling at the views of the mosque, but Romani and Larry urge me to the overlook which provides a view of the city, complete with pyramids floating above the hazy horizon.