May 4, 2012

The Splendid Mosque, 1846

The Splendid Mosque, 1846
Isabella Romer

Splendid Mosque
This mosque, (the name of which signifies the “Splendid Mosque”, and not, as has erroneously been stated, the “Mosque of Flowers”), may be termed the University of the East, for in the numerous Colleges attached to it are educated all the youths destined in this part of the world for the priesthood and the profession of the law, which are always combined in Mahometan countries, where he who best understands the Koran is the best lawyer. Formerly El Azhar sent out its pupils throughout the whole of Africa and part of Asia, and it contains separate colleges under the same roof for the natives of the different provinces of Egypt, or of other Mahometan nations who come to study there, and pay nothing for the instruction they receive. But the number of these has greatly diminished since Mohammed AJi seized upon the cultivable lands that belonged to the mosques, which in the case of El Azhar, formed a considerable portion of its revenues. It now contains from one to two thousand students, three hundred of whom form a college of the blind, which is maintained from funds bequeathed for that purpose by pious Moslems.

The mosque is situated in the very heart of the city, and in such a labyrinth of thickly populated and narrow streets that no good view of its exterior is to be obtained from any side. It has five entrances, the principal one leading into the vast court paved with marble, which we found full of students, seated upon the pavement in little groups, and studying with their professors. I confess that I trembled as I walked through them, and fancied that every one who looked up at me would discover, from the colour of my eyes and the absence of khol round them, that I was an European, and, even an Englishwoman; but nothing of the sort happened, and I got safely into the interior of the mosque. Its great space, and the innumerable quantity of low slender columns with which it is supported, spreading in all directions like a forest, reminded me of the descriptions I have read of the Moorish Mosque of Cordova; but there is no great beauty in El Azhar beyond that which magnitude and airiness produce. We seated ourselves at the foot of one of the columns, and I there made the best use I could of my eyes.

The interior of the mosque was quite as full as the great court, and the groups were highly characteristic and exceedingly picturesque; the base of each column being surrounded by a little turbaned conclave deep in either the study of, or dissertations on, the Koran.

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