Egypt reopens 900-year-old Al Aqmar Mosque

The 10-month renovation project cost 14 million Egyptian pounds and included repairs to the facade

Al Aqmar Mosque is one of the most important Fatimid sites in Cairo. EPA
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One of Cairo’s oldest Shiite mosques has reopened to visitors following a 10-month renovation funded by leaders of the Shiite Bohra community, who have paid to develop several sites in the city’s historic Islamic quarter.

The project to renovate Al Aqmar Mosque cost about 14 million Egyptian pounds ($450,750) to complete, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said.

It said the work was fully funded by the Bohras.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, reopened the mosque on Sunday night, at a ceremony attended by Mufaddal Muhammad Hassan Ali, the Bohra Sultan’s Cairo representative.

The project included work to clean years of dirt and soot from the outside of the mosque.

Inscriptions on the facade were also completed as part of the development, the ministry said. Some were carved into the faded stone and others into the marble on the mosque walls.

Al Aqmar Mosque is famed for its exterior designs, which make the site one of the most important Fatimid sites in Cairo.

The mosque’s marble columns were also cleaned during development and its wooden parts treated and strengthened.

Mesh was added to its windows to prevent birds from entering the mosque and to reduce the accumulation of soot inside, the ministry said.

A balustrade was also installed on the roof and the dome was reinforced, it said.

Friday prayers will be held at the mosque. The reopening of Al Aqmar comes less than a week after the reopening of Al Sayyida Nafisa Mosque, one of the Islamic quarter’s most prominent places of worship.

The site houses the remains of Nafisa, the Prophet Mohammed’s granddaughter.

Funding for the renovation of Al Sayyida Nafisa Mosque also came from the Bohras. The group has also paid to develop Al Hussein Mosque in Cairo.

Development criticised

The Bohras funded the renovation of the 1,000-year-old Hakim bi Amr Allah Mosque, another Shiite site in the city.

But the development of Al Sayyida Nafisa Mosque has been criticised by heritage experts, who said the work, overseen by the Armed Forces engineering authority, removed some of the most characteristically Fatimid aspects of the mosque.

Omniya Abdel Bar, an archaeological researcher at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, questioned some of the changes to the mosque, including the removal of plaques bearing the names of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and the country’s last Khedive, Abbas Helmy II.

Mr Abdel Bar said that was "a strange thing that has nothing to do with the style of Islamic architecture that is subject to well-known foundational principles in design".

Cairo’s Islamic quarter, where the majority of the city's most important religious sites are found, has been a priority for the government because of its appeal to tourists.

The area is home to several Unesco heritage sites, but it has sustained a lot of wear and tear over the decades because of densely populated informal settlements near by.

Updated: August 14, 2023, 2:56 PM