Ibn Tulun Mosque: Built by a Sultan with the treasures of a Djinn
Prepare to step back in time, into the realm of legends and miracles, where history and mystique converge in an architectural masterpiece known as the Ibn Tulun Mosque. Nestled atop Gebel Yashkur, a hill steeped in stories of gratitude and divine encounters, this mosque beckons you to find hidden treasure.
Picture this: Ibn Tulun, a visionary of his time, chose to construct his grand mosque on the very site where Noah’s Ark is said to have found its haven as the floodwaters receded. Here, on the sacred grounds of Gebel Yashkur, the saga of Noah, his family, and the diverse menagerie of animals unfolded, an event that still resonates through the ages and around the world.
Gebel Yashkur’s title, the “Hill of Thanksgiving,” becomes known to us through other fabled events. Legend speaks of God’s beckoning to Abraham on this very hill, tasking him with the horrific act of sacrificing his own son, Ismail. Just as the blade was about to descend, an angel of God appeared, to say the Lord God would accept the sacrifice of a ram caught in a nearby bush in place of Ismail. Thus, the hill now became a monument to gratitude.
It was also here that Moses witnessed the divine spectacle of a burning bush. Guided by these extraordinary holy stories, Ibn Tulun, with an inspired heart, chose this sacred ground as the canvas for his own offering of thanks – the building of the oldest surviving mosque in Cairo.
The mosque is renowned for its spiral minaret (photo below), which is similar to the al-Abbas mosque in Samarra, Iraq
Building Ibn Tulun mosque into Living Rock
In building his mosque, which covered six and a half acres, Ibn Tulun removed the top of the hill so that the foundations could be built into the living rock. Everything around was destroyed at various times by earthquakes, except for the Mosque of Ibn Talun. The mosque was finished in 879 AD, an amazing feat of engineering which has stood the tests of time.
It is said that when Ibn Tulun arrived to start his building work, the Ark of Noak was still on the hill. He had it carefully dismantled and had the writings from the Koran carefully carved into every plank. The planks were placed in succession around the inner walls and aisles of the mosque and are still there today. Ibn Tulun built his palace against the wall of the mosque so he could access the mosque by a private door next to the minbar (pulpit in the mosque from which the Imam preaches). Unfortunately, that palace was destroyed over time.
photo taken of the alcoves from the courtyard of Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo
Treasures of the Djinn
The Ibn Tulun mosque teases the traveler with tales of secrets and treasures. As legend tells us, a benevolent Djinn, Sultan al-Watawit, guided Ibn Tulun to a trove of unimaginable riches deep in the nearby Muqattam Hills. These treasures made it possible for Ibn Tulun to bring all his dreams of what a mosque should be to life. In this rugged terrain lies a deep pit, through which the retreating waters of Noah’s flood escaped.
The mouth of this pit is a well, situated next door to the mosque, in the house we know as the Gayer Anderson House. And it is somewhere down that well that Sultan al-Watawit set up his abode to keep the remaining treasure safe. Ibn Tulun had decided that this treasure should only be used for building the mosque, so when it was completed, he hid the remainder back where he found it, in the Muqattam Hills at the end of that secret passage.
Could it be that some of this treasure sometimes ends up in the water bucket of the magic well in Beit al-Kretliya – dislodged by the ebb and flow of the underground water?
The following is a scene from the James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” where we see Roger Moore as James Bond walking through the Ibn Tulun Mosque and down the steps into the Gayer Anderson House next door. The scene opens with the panoramic view of Cairo filmed from the Saladin Citadel in Cairo.
Who was Ahmed Ibn Tulun?
Ahmed Ibn Tulun was born in Baghdad circa 835. His father was a slave belonging to Caliph al-Ma’mun who became commander of the Caliph’s private guard. When his father died his mother married an important military commander and Ahmed himself married the daughter of another influential General of the Palace Guard. He had two children. As reward for his military achievements the Caliph presented him with a concubine named Meyazz who gave him a son – Khumarawaih. It was Khumarawaih who was to succeed him as ruler of Egypt.
In 868 Ahmed Ibn Tulun came to Egypt as Regent under Bayik Bey (his step-father).
Ibn al-Mudabbir was the Head of the Financial Council and disliked Ibn Tulun. Ibn al-Mudabbir slighted Ibn Tulun by reporting directly to the Cailph not to Ibn Tulun nor his step-father. It took 4 years of political intrigue before Ibn Tulun managed to get Ibn al-Mudabbir removed.
In 879 AD Ahmed’s step-father, Governor of Egypt was murdered and the new Governor was Yarjukh al-Turki, Ahmed Ibn Tulun’s father-in-law. Now Ibn Tulun’s power was increased. He defeated the Governor of Syria in battle and from that campaign his army increased to 100,000 men.
The Caliph of Baghdad now wanted his own son to rule Egypt but was prevented from making this happen at the time by a slave uprising which took his time, troops and money. Ahmed Ibn Tulun took advantage of the situation and declared his independence from Baghdad. 3 years later the Caliph sent an army from Baghdad to retake Egypt but they were defeated. In retaliation Ibn Tulun pressed forward after the retreating army and took control of Syria but he couldn’t consolidate his position because he had to return to Egypt to deal with a revolt led by his first son – Abbas.
Sultan Ahmed Ibn Tulun had a reputation for being as wise and benevolent as he was ruthless and cruel – lopping off the head of physicians who failed to cure him being one example for which he is remembered.
Ibn Tulun was involved in many minor battles with the Caliph of Baghdad and in 883 he fell ill and died on May 10 884 AD. His son from his concubine – Khumarraweh only 20 years old succeeded him as Ruler of Egypt – but not for long.
If you are a tourist needing to make the most of your time – it is a good idea to see Ibn Tulun and the Gayer Anderson House on the same visit to the area.
In fact if you want to make the most of the day you should take our Medieval Tour, Gayer Anderson Hours Tour and Ibn Tulun Mosque on the same day.
It is easily done and all can be booked directly with Mara via email