Ibn Tulun Mosque between Cultural Significance and Syncretism of Beliefs

HeritageForAll – Global Collaborations Program (2017)

By Ms. Noha Abbas Hamed (noha.hamed51@yahoo.com)

Ms. Noha has a bachelor in guidance studies from a faculty of tourism and hotel management, Helwan University. Now, she is M.A. candidate at the Helwan Uni. program in Heritage Conservation and Site Management.


Heritage interpretation enhances the visitor’s experience. It also strengthens the relationship between the heritage site and the surrounding local community. Moreover, developing the site image, heritage interpretation contributes as a strategic tool generating a multi-disciplinary economic return either for the heritage site itself or the locals. The blog article aims at interpreting Ibn Tulun Mosque to provide some insight into Islamic beliefs and to reveal the mixed cultures in relation to Islamic art and architecture.


Ibn Tulun Mosque is the third mosque ever built in Egypt. According to the architectural style of Medina mosque, it was constructed. It was associated with a wide range historical timeline. Mainly, it was associated with the historical background of the independent ruler Ahmed Ibn Tulun and his magnificent political town “ El-Qata’i’ ”. Ibn Tulun Mosque is located at the royal quarter. Mosque approximately is occupied 26,318 square meters in plan. It is considered one of the oldest mosques in Egypt which was survived in a fairly original architectural form. It also has been indicated that the western side of the mosque once bordered gardens and open agricultural land.

Archaeological Significance of Ibn Tulun Mosque

Ibn Tulun Mosque has have survived in its original design. Its decorative style displays the integration between Samarra stucco and Roman mosaics. An influence of this integration was incorporated into Islamic decorative design and further developed by local craftsmen. The stucco decoration of the Soffits are quite unique. The diversity and minute details of the patterns prove professional craftsmanship. Though, the stucco shows the traces of Samarra, Roman influences. The artists have been combined the Arabian and European architectural and decorative styles creating a new unique style that was never repeated or copied inside or outside of Egypt. Geometrical patterns were used as frames filling with Samarran floral motifs. The 49 plant motifs and geometric patterns were frequently used in Roman and Byzantine arts and later on transmitted to Islamic art.

Egypt was a melting pot for international craftsmen and workers who travel from city to city looking for a valuable employee. Many of those belong to the near eastern states such as Syria, Palestine, and Iraq. Tulunid art is considered one of the unique Islamic or Arabic art. There are numerous Arabian craftsmen who worked on the mosques’ decoration.

In 2000, Historic Cairo Project started its conservation Ibn Tulun Mosque. The project aims at conserving the mosque as well as preserving its authentic, aesthetic and historic values. Significance and style of Ibn Tulun Mosque are displayed allowing the visitor to explore and find out the Muslims, their beliefs. The archaeological significance here is highlighted the places where the Syncretism has been accrued. It reveals the mixed cultures in art and architecture encouraging engaging various target group to engage with this significant cultural heritage.

The Spiral Minaret of Ibn Tulun Mosque

Samarra Mosque, Iraq
Ibn Tulun Mosque’s Patterns
Byzantine floor mosaics, the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna – Ital
Ibn Tulun Mosque Windows
Roman floor mosaics, ancient Roman city, Pompeii-India

Developing Interpretation Methods

Knowledge becomes understanding when it is coupled with feeling.” Alexander Lowen

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Confucius

Storytelling helps to make the past coming alive. Using a storytelling, as a mean of developing and marketing, is a necessary to build up an appriciation of culture raising an awareness of our nations history and stimulating the visitors.

Commuters can encounter archaeology as a part of their daily routine.
Underground Metro Station, Athens, Greece

Architect can designed pavilion tells the story the mosque with structure simulate eye catching and sympathetic to its surroundings.

Catalina flying boat pavilion, Bowen, Australia

A derelict location could be transformed into an interesting piece of heritage interpretation by the street art. Shared values of the interpretive activities at the heritage sites could be included establishing the training programs of the main organizations. This could be achieved by well-trained interpretive agents developing flexible modules and tools.

Alice Kytler Graffiti, Kilkenny


  • Azab, P. M. (2015), The Sources of Ibn Tulun’s Soffit Decoration, M.A. degree in Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Arab and Islamic Civilizations Islamic Art and Architecture, American University in Cairo, Egypt.
  • European Association for Heritage Interpretation, Interpret Europe (2017), Engaging Citizens with Europe’s Cultural Heritage: How to Make Best Use of the Interpretive Approach, (a Contribution to the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018) Witzenhausen: Interpret Europe.
  • Mahrous, W. A. (2016), Developing Storytelling Framework for Interpreting Culture Heritage Sites in Egypt, M.A. degree in Heritage Conservation and Site Management (Unpublished dissertation) Cottbus, Germany: Helwan Uni. and BTU Cottbus-Stenfenburg.
  • Shaer, M. (2010), Restoration of Ahmad Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairo: Aga Khan Award Publication.
  • Mossberg, L., Therkelsen, A., Huijbens, E. H., Björk, P. & Olsson, A. K. (2010), Storytelling and Destination Development, Norway: Nordic Innovation Centre (Norden).

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