Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Cairo is known as the city of a thousand minarets, so imagine how many there are in Egypt as a whole. Spoiler alert: a whole lot.
Egyptian mosques are no cookie cutter experience: some are over 1,000 years old while others were built the day before yesterday, and some are architectural treasures while others are, well, not.
To really experience the beauty of Islamic art, architecture and history, we’ve narrowed down (in no particular order) the Egyptian mosques you should most definitely have on your to-see list.
Once of the most important monuments in the Islamic world, the Sultan Hassan Madrassa and Mosque was home to four different madrassas (religious schools) as well as a mosque. Islamic historians referred to it as a “wonder of construction”.
This huge Islamic structure is built in the shape of a cruciform (cross-shaped), with an open courtyard surrounded by high stone walls, and is known for its beautiful architecture. There’s also a mausoleum where it’s believed that the sultan is buried.
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Abu Al Abbas Al Mursi
This mosque was built over the tomb of the Andalusian Islamic scholar and sheikh, Abu El Abbas Al Mursi. He left his home country of Spain in 1242 for Tunisia, before moving to Alexandria, where he spent 43 years up until his death.
In 1307, the then-ruler El Sheikh Zein El Deen built a mausoleum, dome and a small mosque over the tomb. It became a popular pilgrimage spot for Muslims passing through Alexandria on their way to and from Mecca.
The present, much larger mosque that stands today was built in 1775 by Algerian sheikh Abu Hassan el Maghreby. It was renovated and ‘beautified’ multiple times since then, and remains to date Alexandria’s largest mosque.
Established: 970 AD
Al Azhar is known as one of the most important, if not *the* most important centers of Islamic theology and learning in the world. The mosque and its university for Islamic teaching was founded over 1,000 years ago by the Fatimids, who built the city of Cairo. Al Azhar University today is Egypt’s oldest degree-granting university.
The mosque is famous for its white marble courtyard and five minarets, which were built in 1340, 1469, and 1510.
Established: 13th century
What makes Abu Haggag so interesting is the fact that it’s built on the ruins of the Luxor Temple, so essentially the mosque looks like a hybrid between Ancient Egyptian and Medieval Islamic times.
Abu Haggag Mosque actually wasn’t the first place of worship to be built on the Luxor Temple ruins -- several churches predated it, including one in the exact spot the mosque stands now. The cool thing is, this means that for over 3,500 years, people of different religions used that same spot to pray and worship their different gods.
Right next to the Sultan Hassan mosque, separated by only a small pedestrian lane, is the equally massive Al Rifai mosque.
It’s because of its huge neighbor that Al Rifai is its size; the architects didn’t want Sultan Hassan to dwarf it. It was commissioned by Khoshiar Hanem, the mother of Khedive Ismail, to house the royal family’s tombs as well as be a place of worship.
Al Rifai mosque also hosts the tomb of its namesake, the Sheikh Al Rifai, a medieval Islamic saint. There’s also a mausoleum for the Shah of Iran.
Location: Old Cairo
Established: 884 AD
Ibn Tulun is not only the oldest mosque in Cairo in its original form, but also the largest. It also has one of the very few minarets in the world where the staircase is on the outside and lends to stunning views of the city.
The mosque was built by Ahmed Ibn Tulun, an Abbassid governor in Egypt, and it’s said that he was inspired by his homeland of Iraq. Some historians maintain that Ibn Tulun mosque has the world’s first pointed arch, some 200 years before Europe started incorporating Gothic arches in their architecture.
Local tip: make sure to climb to the top of the minaret!
Location: Sharm El Sheikh
The newest mosque on this list, Al Sahaba is proving to be an Instagram opportunity as much as a place of worship. A mix of Ottoman, Fatimid and Mamluk architectural and interior design styles, some find the mosque to be extremely beautiful while others find it garish.
It’s sandwiched between the Red Sea and Sharm’s mountains, and can hold over 3,000 visitors.
Mosque of Mohammed Ali
Mohammed Ali Mosque in the Cairo Citadel is one of Cairo’s landmarks and dominates the Eastern skyline, both during the day and then at night when it’s lit up. It was commissioned by Mohammed Ali Pasha, an Ottoman Albanian military commander who became Khedive of Egypt.
The mosque’s design was inspired by the Sultan Ahmed mosque in Istanbul, and there’s a brass clock tower which was a gift to Mohammed Ali by King Louis Philippe of France in 1845. Mohammed Ali in return gave him the obelisk of Luxor that stands until today in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
El Mina Mosque
El Mina translates to ‘the port’, and it’s a fitting name for this mosque built right on the Hurghada Red Sea harbor, with little fishing boats and bigger yachts dotting the water around it.
Built over an area of 4,000 meters, this mosque has 25 domes, a large marble courtyard and two towering minarets. The architectural style is eclectic, with nods to different Islamic motifs and designs.
Al Zaher Barquq
The mosque-madrassa of Al Zaher Barquq (also known as the Sultan Barquq mosque) is a medieval religious complex in the Moez street area in Old Cairo, adjacent to Khan el Khalili (for our full Khan el Khalili guide, head here). It’s comprised of a mosque, madrassa, mausoleum and khanqah (a building for Sufi spiritual retreat).
It was the first monument constructed during the Circassian dynasty of Mamluk rule in Egypt; Al Zaher Barquq was the first Circassian sultan of Egypt. Read more about the Islamic architecture found in Moez Street in our detailed local's guide.
Want more beautiful religious sites in Egypt? Check out 9 Egyptian churches, cathedrals and monasteries you need to visit at least once.