The Ibn Tulun Mosque is said to have been built on Gebel Yashkur (the Hill of Thanksgiving) by Ibn Tulun because it was here that Noah’s Ark came to rest as the flood waters receded and it was here that Noah, his family and all the animals disembarked.
In Pharaonic times the Pharaohs had cut down through the rock of Gebel Yashkur and it was into this pit – now the home of Sultan al-Watawit, King of the Djinns in the courtyard of Beit al-Kretliya that the last of the flood waters drained.
The “Hill of Thanksgiving” is so called because legend says that it was also here that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ismail, but as Abraham was about to cut the boy’s throat an angel appeared carrying a ram and told Abraham that God would accept the ram as Abraham had been willing to sacrifice his son. They also say that it was here Moses saw God in the burning bush and so because of all these miraculous happenings Ibn Tulun choose this spot on which to build his mosque.
In building his mosque covering six and a half acres, Ibn Tulun removed the top of the hill so that the foundations were built into the living rock. Everything around was destroyed at various times by earthquake – except for the Mosque of Ibn Talun. The mosque was finished in 879 AD 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 place in succession round 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).
Apparently, a benevolent Djinn revealed the presence of a great treasure to Ibn Talun and historians agree that Ibn Talun built his mosque on the proceeds of a great treasure found in the Muqattam Hills behind the Citadel. Legend goes on to say that there was much treasure left over and that the Sultan Ibn Talun decided that this gold should be used for no other purpose than the building of the Mosque so he hid the remainder at the end of a secret passage that runs from Beit al-Kretliya under the Mosque. Could it be some of this treasure that 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?
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 Hatun, 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. This is one of my favourite places in Cairo and is part of Mara’s Mythical Tour in Cairo (Gayer Anderson House)
The Legends of the house next door – Beit Al-Kreitlia:
- The King of the Djinns (Geniis)
- The Face of True Love
- Agha Saleem – his foolish wife and lost treasure
- The Benevolent Serpent of Beit Al-Kreitlia