Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1396, (31 May - 6 June 2018)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1396, (31 May - 6 June 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Rosetta mosque reopens

The 16th-century Zaghloul Mosque in the coastal city of Rosetta reopened on last week after a long period of restoration, reports Nevine El-Aref

Zaghloul Mosque before restoration

The Zaghloul Haroun Mosque now stands waiting for worshippers and visitors in Sheikh Qandil Street in the centre of the Delta coastal city of Rosetta, after it was officially reopened last week by Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany after 13 years of restoration. 

The mosque, like other Islamic monuments in Rosetta, had been suffering from environmental dangers including high subsoil water levels, high levels of humidity, and the leakage of water from the madiaa (the water fountain used for ablutions), as well as the city’s decaying sewage system. 

Rosetta lacks central drainage, and trenches gather sewage beneath the ground forming streams that can reach the basements of the city’s monuments. The topography of Rosetta and the urban clusters on the west bank of the Nile have contributed to the deterioration of the monuments, as most of the city is located on relatively elevated land sloping towards the Nile on a lower level.

The mosque had suffered serious cracks and fissures in its walls and ceilings as a result, and floors had partially collapsed, masonry had been lost, and splendid mashrabiya (turned wood) widows and façades had been broken. Faience tiles decorating its façades had been damaged and stained with dust. Many of the original bricks used in the mosque’s construction had decayed and lost some of their original features.

Zaghloul Mosque after restoration

“One of the most serious causes of the damage was the abuse of the mosque by worshippers as well as the encroachment of traders over the centuries,” Waadallah Abul-Ela, head of the Projects Sector at the Ministry of Antiquities, said, adding that the restoration work had started in 2005 when the walls of the mosque had cracked, the masonry was damaged, and the condition of the ceiling and water fountain was critical. The ceiling decorations were heavily stained with smoke, while most of the flooring was broken. The mosque had been closed to prayer and visitors. 

“What has been opened this week is only the first phase of the restoration project, and it was done in order to enable worshippers to pray during the month of Ramadan,” Abul-Ela said, adding that the work had included the consolidation of the building’s foundations and the restoration of its western section. Restoration work has started in the eastern section and includes the dismantling of the domes, walls and pillars in order to consolidate the foundations. 

The old entrance of Al-Mahali Mosque

El-Enany said the restoration had been carried out according to the latest scientific methods. “Every effort has been made to ensure that all the original architectural features of the mosque were retained,” he said, adding that the restoration had had the advantage that important monuments were being preserved for future generations and the entire neighbourhood was being revived and upgraded.

Gamal Mustafa, head of the Islamic and Coptic Antiquities Sector at the Ministry of Antiquities, said the aim of the restoration was mainly to strengthen the foundations of the mosque and to protect them from future damage. This had been achieved using a micro-pile system, he said, which involved the installation of sharp pointed columns beneath the mosque to reinforce its foundations. 

The walls were reinforced, missing and decayed stones were replaced, and masonry cleaned and desalinated, he added.

Parts of the damaged floor of the water fountain have been dismantled, restored, and replaced in their original position. Missing Quranic texts embellishing the mosque’s walls have been completed, and the authentic floor of the Mosque has been cleaned. Missing pieces have been replaced. 

wooden door

The Zaghloul Mosque is in fact two mosques joined together. Incorporated into its structure are almost 300 columns of varying sizes salvaged from older buildings. It is the most famous mosque in Rosetta, and it played a prominent role in the 19th century as it was from here that the signal to attack invading British forces associated with the 1807 Frazer Campaign was made. 

The mosque, which is bigger than Al-Azhar in Cairo, was thus once a symbol of popular struggle. 

Residents of Rosetta are proud of the historical importance of their city. “I come to the Mosque of Zaghloul regularly with my children to teach them how Rosetta’s population defended their country through their belief in God,” said Mosaad Hamza, a local resident. “The Zaghloul Mosque is not an ordinary mosque. It is a symbol of the struggle of the people of Rosetta,” echoed resident Ahmed Metwalli.

The mosque was built in Egypt’s Circassian Mameluke period in 1577 CE. It is one of the largest in Rosetta, covering some 4,000 square metres and located at the intersection of the three main streets of the city. 

Al-Mahali Mosque

The mosque is composed of a qibla iwan (prayer hall) with 10 riwaqs (arcades or porticos) resting on stilted pointed arches supported by marble columns. The western iwan is composed of three riwaqs, and the eastern one consists of four. The mosque’s roof has some 50 domes, and as in other local mosques the 300 columns holding it up are a motley miscellany taken from older buildings of assorted historical periods. 

Restoration work is also being carried out on the city’s Al-Mahali Mosque in order to open it to the public. Abul-Ela said this mosque suffered from similar problems to the Zaghloul Mosque and work was continuing on schedule.

The Al-Mahali Mosque is a tiny mosque whose elements feel random. It has six entrances with different gates and decorative features. It has 99 columns, each of which is unique. Taken from other religious buildings, they may represent the continuity of older practices that reflect the continuities in the hearts of believers. The mosque was built in the 15th century by Sheikh Ali Al-Mahali who died in 1495 in Rosetta. 

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