I love exploring new areas and when there is so much to explore just on one street, it is a major win in my book! And it’s a double win when my favorite walking tour company (Walk Like an Egyptian) schedules a tour of that street just as you’ve been wanting to check it out.
El Muezz Street is near Khan el Khalili in Islamic Cairo. The stretch we walked goes from the Khan north to Bab al-Futuh, a distance of about 1 km (or about .6 mi). Along that stretch there is so much to see! It was the heart of Fatimid Cairo. If you are really interested in the architecture and history of all the sites, the book Islamic Monuments in Cairo by Caroline Williams has an entire chapter (40 pages) on El Muezz St and the surrounding area.
Two of the mosques we looked at from the outside–Al Hakim Mosque near Bab al-Futuh and al-Aqmar Mosque about halfway down our route. Masjid al-Aqmar was built in 1125 AD and was originally at the corner of a Fatimid palace.
Fun Fact–The Fatimids were Isma’ili Shiites. The Shiites community split in 765 AD after the death of their 6th imam. Those who followed Isma’il, his eldest son, became Isma’ilis and those who followed a younger brother became Twelvers.
Al-Aqmar Mosque is very important in Cairo’s architectural history (photos above). It was the first mosque in Cairo where the entrance wall is not on an axis with the qibla wall (the one that faces Mecca). Instead, the entrance wall is angled to follow the street. It is also the first Cairo mosque to have a decorated stone facade.
The other mosque we saw from the outside is Al Hakim Mosque, built from 990-1013 AD (seen above). Al Hakim, a Fatimid imam, was eccentric and made some very different rules. He forbade cobblers from making shoes for women to force them to stay inside and he had all the honey in Cairo dumped into the Nile. He proclaimed himself divine, and shortly after was murdered in the hills of Muqattam. There is still a sect that worships him and anticipates his return from the dead.
Another stop was at the Beat El Sehemy, or El Sehemy House (photos below) This was named after its last owner, sheikh Mohamed Amin el Sehemy. It was originally two houses, with the southern part built in 1058 and the northern part built in 1211. Both were later purchased by the same person and combined into one large house. The grounds open to the public included some garden and kitchen areas and then part of the first floor. However, the caretakers opened up a beautiful blue room for our tour group and it was definitely the highlight!
Fun Fact–the word “mashrefeya” means a jutted out window with tight lattice and little windows you can open up to see more. They were used by women to discretely watch the goings on below. The word “mashrebeya” means a rounded window that holds water jugs to keep them cool.
Good to know–Beat El Sehemy has bathrooms!
Another interesting stop on the tour was the Hammam Inal. It was built by al-Malik al-Sultan al-Ashraf Abu’l-Nasr Sayf al-Din in 1456 AD. This one was used until the 60s. It was used by both men and women, though on different days. One year there was a big fire on the women’s day and many women died because they didn’t want to run outside while naked. It created a saying, “those who were shy, died.”
In the hammam, they first had changing rooms where you would strip and get a large towel. Then there was a winding path down to the baths. It had benches surrounding a fountain where you could sit and relax and wait your turn. The ceiling had holes with colored glass to set the mood. There were a number of small rooms with either stone tables for massages or baths for soaking. Certain rooms were designed in a way to trap heat as a sauna space. People would spend many hours here relaxing.
Along our walk down the road, we also saw several sabils. These were charity spots built by wealthy Egyptians to provide water for travelers. People could go up the steps to the window openings, take a metal cup attached to a chain and scoop out some water to drink or fill their container. Inside workers would refill the sinks with water. We visited the Sabil Al-Silahdar, built in the mid 1800s. In 2001, restoration workers discovered a large cistern under the building which was used to fill the wells for the sabil. It is 15m high, 12m wide and 18m long!
The Madrasa-Khanqah of Sultan Barquq (seen below) was built from 1384-86. Barquq was the first Circassian Mamluk sultan (The Circassians were from the Caucuses and first came to Egypt as slaves. Mamluk means slave. In 1382 Barquq seized power through some nefarious deeds. He is said to have been cruel, magnanimous, and brave and had to keep defending this throne. This building was both a khanqah and a madrasa. Khanqahs are special places designed for gatherings of sufis to stay and have spiritual retreats. A madrasa is a school.
The Complex of Sultan al-Mansur Qalawun included a hospital, madrasa, and mausoleum. Sultan Qalawun was a Mongol and a Bahri Mamluk (Bahri from the word for “river” as they were housed on Roda island). He became sultan in 1279.
The original hospital is closed for renovations and little remains anyway. However, there has been a hospital on this site ever since his reign and was a very early hospital for eye diseases. It was very advanced for its time. The mausoleum is very ornate and had some beautiful mother-of-pearl inlay.
There is so much to see on El Muezz Street, I am going to have to go back!
Start/End: You can walk in either direction–the points for the walk I did are Bab al-Futuh (https://goo.gl/maps/dakEG3Ymaj32) and Mosque of Sultan Barsbay (https://goo.gl/maps/kgPXBeQm7uv). The Mosque is at the edge of Khan el Khalili, so it is easy to start or end there with some shopping. We started at the Khan.
Parking: This is not an easy parking destination. The closest easy parking the the Darasa Parking at Al Azhar Park, at least a 15 min walk from the Khan. Taxi is much easier.
Cost: If you start at the Khan end, then your first stop will be the complex of Sultan Qalawun. You’ll get a ticket there that includes entrance to several other stops. Diplomats actually get free entry with Dip ID. I’m not sure the rate for foreigners or locals. Hold onto your ticket or be prepared to show your dip ID at each stop. Some of the other stops have their own entry tickets.
On Your Own? It is an easy walk to do on your own, though there is not much signage except for a small sign at each entrance. So if you like lots of facts, it is worth having a tour guide. If you just want highlights, then it is easy to navigate on your own especially with the Islamic Monuments in Cairo book.
Bathrooms–The Suhaymi House has bathrooms, though you might have to ask to find them as they aren’t very obvious. Be prepared to tip and have your own TP.
Water and Food–There are a number of little stalls along the walk with snacks and water. A small bottle of water should be 5le or less.
Clothing-Wear good walking shoes and conservative clothing. We didn’t go in any active mosques, but if you plan to, bring a headscarf if female. Shorts are typically a no for men in mosques as well.
Want a Tour? I love the Walk Like an Egyptian walking tours and went on one of their group ones for this walk.