Who? Anyone who is visiting Cairo should plan to spend a few hours at this jewel.
What? The Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo was completed in 972 AD and has seen many a renovation and addition since its inception. This place of worship is indeed a serene, tranquil place in the heart of Cairo and is also the center of the prestigious university with the same name.
How? The Al-Azhar Mosque is located at El Darb El Ahmer in Cairo and is literally a short walk from the famous Khan el Khalili bazaar. There is no entrance fee, but when we entered, one of the administrators at the mosque offered to show us the madrassas and the minaret for a nominal fee.
Please remember that this is an active place of worship. So it is best to check with your hotel and avoid prayer times. Since it is a place of worship, visitors need to dress conservatively. A head scarf is necessary and clothing must cover the arms and legs. You need to remove your slippers before entering.
Why? In addition to being an important place of worship and learning, the mosque presents some exquisite architecture which has evolved with the additions over time. As you enter the mosque, you see the madrassas (schools) on your right where young kids come to learn. Immediately you walk into a beautiful open courtyard with architecture from the Fatimid period. You are greeted with a visual of people praying along the perimeter, kids running around with parents chatting and of course, tourists admiring the intricate, elaborate architecture that beholds them.
Tourists are allowed to walk into the carpeted prayer hall, the red carpet with signs pointing to Mecca forming a contrast against the alabaster columns. There is a beautiful interplay of light that you can see as it makes its way in through the doors.
If you do get a chance, please do visit the minarets. In addition to seeing the architecture from a different vantage point, you can also get some great city views.
To get a virtual, 360 degree tour of the mosque click here.