Mosque of Al-Hakim

sights / Religious

Mosque of Al-Hakim information

Cairo , Egypt
Sharia al-Galal
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Built into the northern walls, this mosque is the work of the sixth Fatimid ruler of Egypt, who took the throne at the age of 11 and whose tutor nicknamed him ‘Little Lizard’ because of his frightening looks and behaviour. His 24-year reign was marked by violence and behaviour that went far beyond the usual court intrigues; modern historians speculate he may simply have been insane. Those nearest to him lived in constant fear for their lives. He had his nicknaming tutor killed, along with scores of others. A victorious general rushing unannounced into the royal apartments was confronted by a bloodied Hakim standing over a disembowelled page boy. The general was beheaded.

Hakim reputedly often patrolled the streets in disguise, riding a donkey. Most notoriously, he punished dishonest merchants by having them dealt with by a well-endowed black servant. His death was as bizarre as his life. On one of his solitary nocturnal jaunts up onto the Muqattam Hills, Hakim simply disappeared; his body was never found. To one of his followers, a man called Al-Darizy, this was proof of Hakim’s divine nature. From this seed Al-Darizy founded the sect of the Druze that continues to this day.

Completed in 1013, the vast Mosque of Al-Hakim is one of Cairo’s older mosques but it was rarely used for worship. Instead it functioned as a Crusaders’ prison, a stable, a warehouse, a boys’ school and, most appropriately considering its notorious founder, a madhouse. An Ismaili Shiite group restored the mosque in the 1980s, but with its open-plan square and spare decoration, it’s not nearly as interesting as the man behind it. The real masterpieces are the two stone minarets, the earliest surviving in the city (thanks in part to a post-earthquake restoration in 1304 by Beybars al-Gashankir).