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JAMA’A Al -AQSUNQUR (BLUE MOSQUE)
Preserving an early Mamluk monument and its exceptional Iznik decoration
The Blue Mosque is the largest mosque in the Bab al-Wazir district of Cairo. Built in 1347 by Amir Aqsunqur, the mosque is an exceptional example of early Mamluk religious architecture, associating a mausoleum for the founder with a large courtyard for prayer surrounded by porticoes. In 1652, the Ottoman Amir Ibrahim Agha Mustafazan initiated a restoration campaign of the mosque and redecorated the sanctuary with blue Iznik tiles, some original, others made in Cairo workshops, giving the mosque its modern name.
The arches of the porticoes suffered from a destructive 1992 earthquake and are structurally unsafe. They were shored up in the mid-1990s to prevent further collapse. The mausoleum of Ibrahim Agha Mustafazan is also much deteriorated. The supporting walls are heavily cracked, as are the Iznik tiles and marble decorations. The base of all masonry is affected by rising damp with salt deposits on the surfaces of the materials, and some of the decorations have collapsed as a result. In addition, some of the Iznik tiles decorations were stolen and the site is still exposed to looting and vandalism.
HOW WE HELPED
WMF has a long-standing collaboration with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Historic Cairo that has resulted in the conservation of several monuments in the Darb el-Ahmar area and the Blue Mosque is the most recent effort. This project was initiated in 2009, and it is expected to take three years to complete the proposed work that will stabilize the building, conserve the historic interior, repair the roof, and set up a post-conservation monitoring and maintenance system.
After a decade of collaboration in Cairo, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and World Monuments Fund celebrated the completion of the Blue Mosque project through the creation of an exhibition describing the conservation program undertaken in partnership with the Ministry of State for Antiquities.
WHY IT MATTERS
The work being conducted by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and WMF in Darb el-Ahmar is a successful example of the integration of urban regeneration and cultural heritage preservation. The conservation of the largest sacred space in this poor neighborhood of historic Cairo will reopen the mosque, closed since being damaged in the 1992 earthquake, providing the local community with space for its religious needs. In addition to returning a valuable part of the community to its intended purpose, the project will also provide training for local artisans and conservators.