Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Queen Safia's Mosque; Stair Way To Heaven

©Aga Khan Trust for Culture
One year ago, I felt frustrated about a degree I had and needed to have one of those long walks that sets your mind at ease. So, me and a friend of mine took a walk down Mohamed Ali street. We decided to walk from Attaba square to Al-Sultan Hassan. A lot of people would think of taking a walk down Mohamed Ali street with its interesting history, old houses, stores and large Arches.
I don’t know why but instead of walking down the St., We found ourselves in the Parallel passageways, ones which I didn’t expect to find in this place.
The Passages had the sense of the old Egyptian neighborhood with its narrow alleys and beautiful Cobblestone paving.
As we walked through one of the passages we found a dead end; shaped by the back of a huge mosque. We explored our way around the mosque to find an entrance. Apparently, this marvelous creation has been long time neglected as many before it. We didn’t get the chance to see it from the inside.
Most of the mosques I visited before had their names carved on the main entrance, but this one had no carving whatsoever. In all the places that I’ve been to so far I’ve seen nothing like the semicircular stairs leading to the entrance. I kept thinking of the Stair way to heaven. And Later, a little research had to be done.  

Queen Safiya's Mosque

Unfortunately, the doors were closed, but the top of the stairs about 3m above the ground shaped a beautiful platform that oversees Mohamed Ali’s street, a place you would enjoy with the company of a friend and a good cup of tea that you can easily find in the fronting Coffee shop at the other end of the stairs. The place is surrounded by houses from all sides and parked cars on its frontier. If you’re there by sunset or a little earlier, you might enjoy the pigeons’ groups flying around.

©Aga Khan Trust for Culture

“Along the Street lies the Mosque of Malika Safiya (Queen Safiya) built in 1610, in an alley called Sikkat Al-Malika (the Queen’s Pathway) to the right. 

The mosque resembles those in Istanbul, Turkey more than any other in Cairo. It was originally set in a garden with high steps on the south side, leading to a courtyard surrounded by domed arcades. The central dome rests on six arches supported by red granite Ptolemaic columns. Unfortunately, what was once a garden is now a car park and homes.”

After surfing the internet for more images for the mosque from the inside I found out it is as impressive from the inside as it is from the outside.

©Aga Khan Trust for Culture
When I first realized the name of the mosque, I knew it as “EL-Set Safyia’s mosque” and I wondered if it was related somehow to Queen Sofia’s mosque in Istanbul which is also known their as Hagia Sofia’s Mosque, the famous church that was converted into a mosque. As Fascinating as I hoped it would be, it was not the same person. However, the firstly mentioned Queen Sofia had another mosque Yeni Mosque also in Istanbul, it was being built under her regency. And it appeared that even though she is not Hagia sofia, she is most certainly Sultana Safiye, Sultana of the Uthman Empire.

“The identity of Safiye has often been confused with that of her Venetian mother-in-law, leading some to believe that Safiye was also of Venetian descent. There is dispute about Safiye's origins in contemporary sources. However, according to a contemporary Venetian source, Safiye was of Albanian origin. In 1563, at the age of 13, she was presented as a slave to the future Murad III, son of Suleiman the Magnificent and Hürrem Sultan. Given the name Safiye ("the pure one"), she became a concubine of Murad (then the eldest son of Sultan Selim II). In 26 May 1566, she was the Valid Sultan of the Ottoman Empire after she gave birth to Mohamed III the son of Murad.” 

She lived in a period of the Uthman empire called the Sultanate of women, a nearly 130 years’ phase when the women had extreme political influence by being mothers or wives of the male ottoman sultan.
I am sure there is much more to the story of Sultana Safiya, as she was indeed a woman of great impact in her time. Aside from the fact that it is a very influential historical landmark, I think a mosque with her name holds a great deal of debates If it was paid enough attention to. The place also holds a great potential for many adaptive reuse ideas. Comes in the top of my head, reusing it as a culture center to discuss variable historical events.

Queen Safia’s mosque is only one of the hidden gems in the alleys surrounding Mohamed Ali’s street, their will certainly be more to discover.

Queen Safia's Mosque, Main Entrance. 

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