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Meeting a royal family at Al-Rifa'i.

Summary: CAIRO - If you would like to see the final resting-place of kings, who filled Egyptian history with their stories and achievements, you should visit Al-Rifa'i Mosque, also known as the Royal Mosque.

By Salwa Samir - The Egyptian Gazette

It serves as the burial place for Mohamed Ali's family and royal personages who were not Egyptian and is located right opposite the famous Sultan Hassan Mosque on Salah el-Din Square, a short walk from the Mohamed Ali Citadel.

The Rifa'i Mosque was built in two phases between 1869 and 1912, the year that saw its completion. It was originally commissioned by Khushyar Hanim, the mother of the 19th century Khedive Ismail Pasha and intended to expand and replace the shrine and tomb of the medieval Sufi saint Ahmed el-Rifa'i. The shrine was a pilgrimage site for local people, who believed that the tomb had mystical healing qualities. Khushayar envisioned a dual purpose for the new structure, as a place that housed Sufi relics and a mausoleum for Egypt's royal families.

The original architect was Hussein Fahmi Pasha al-Mi'mar, a distant cousin within the dynasty founded by Mohamed Ali in 1803. He died during the first construction phase; work was halted when Khedive Ismail Pasha abdicated in 1880.

Khushayar Hanim herself died in 1885 and work was not resumed until 1905 when Khedive Abbas Hilmi II ordered its completion. The construction was supervised by the Hungarian architect Max Herz, who was the head of the Committee for the Conservation of Arab Monuments in Cairo.

The Rifa'i Mosque covers an area of 6,500 metres and is one of Cairo's biggest mosques. After ascending the huge stairs that lead to the entrance, one must take the shoes off, and women should wear scarves, which is a tradition in all mosques around the world. This entrance reminds you of a Pharaonic temple because of its huge columns that reflect magnificence and importance.

When entering the mosque you notice the antique green Turkish rugs. Green is often used in places of worship, and in the exact centre of the carpets you see a red flower. This ornamental feature is repeated on the ceilings made of stained wood with the flowers in coloured glass.

The mosque's gilded dome is made of wood and adorned with colourful plant patterns.

The building is almost rectangular in shape and consists of two sections; the first is the prayer hall on your right, the second houses the royal tombs and mausoleums on your left.

In the centre and between the two there is the shrine of the local saint Ali Abu-Shubbak al-Rifa'i. It is illuminated by green lights and the smell of sandalwood permeates the air.

On the left there is a huge portal leading into a rectangular antechamber to the royal hall. The latter houses the tomb of Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran (1919 - 1980), who died in his Cairo exile. He was the husband of King Farouk's sister, Princess Fawziya.

The mausoleum is characterised by green marble with brown veins from Pakistan. An Iranian flag is displayed next to the marble tomb, which carries information about the Shah in the Persian language. Iranian rugs cover the floor; according to Hadeer Ali, the archaeologist who accompanied me, they were brought to the chamber by the Shah's third wife Farah Diba in the 1980s.

A big wooden door inlaid with ivory and ebony leads to another room, which houses the tombs of King Fouad I (who ruled Egypt from 1922-1936) and his mother, Princess Feriyal.

King Fouad's tomb comprises three sarcophagi made of white marble; there is a yellow bar inscribed with Qur'anic verses in copper. The second sarcophagus is a true marvel, it carries the same decorations as the faE*ade of Abdeen Palace, built by Khedive Ismail.

Next to King Fouad's tomb is his mother's. It might surprise visitors that her tomb is bigger and more elaborate; this reflects the King's respect for her, and it's also inscribed with Qur'anic verses in yellow copper.

In the next chamber you can see the tomb of King Farouk, the tenth ruler in the Mohamed Ali Dynasty and the penultimate king of Egypt and Sudan, who succeeded his father Fouad I in 1936.

This tomb is very simple and small compared to his father's and other tombs. It is made of white marble, on it is written in black calligraphy:

In the name of God

The deceased Farouk I

Was born on February 11, 1920

Took the reign on May 6, 1936

Abdicate in favour of his infant son Ahmed Fouad on July 26, 1952

Died on March 18, 1965.

The brown, yellow, white and fern-green marble walls of the tomb come from Turkey and Italy. Visitors can recite the Qur'an while siting on an old wooden seat. Hadeer told me that many Egyptians would come regularly to visit Farouk, their beloved king.

Leaving this room and moving along a corridor, you will see more chambers with tombs, such as the Khedive Ismail's (who ruled from 1863 - 1879). It is quite magnificent with its three sarcophagi that get smaller in ascending order. It is bigger than Fouad's, the second sarcophagus is covered in the patterns of Abdeen Palace, but every individual design is inscribed in copper with a Qur'anic verse alternating with the name of God.

The entire tomb is in yellow, white, black and green marble. Beside his is his mother's tomb, Khoshyar Hanem. It has only two sarcophagi, but they are bigger than her son's. It is altogether the biggest tomb in the entire mosque, possibly because she was its founder. It is covered in white marble and adorned with Qur'anic verses in yellow copper. Gilded decorations are in the shape of open curtains.

There are further royal tombs, whose elaborate beauty makes you feel that you are looking at paintings.

These tombs are waiting for you to visit them every day from 8 am to 5pm, even on feast days. An archaeologist speaking several languages will accompany you. Tickets cost LE25

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Oct 4, 2012
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