As we made our way to explore Manzil Zeinab Khatoon, we were surprised to find it undergoing some renovations. The historical site is situated on Mohammed Abdou Street, immediately behind the Al-Azhar Mosque in the El-Darb El-Ahmar area. Prior to our visit, we were informed that it is one of the oldest historical homes in Old Cairo and features magnificent Islamic architecture. This did not stop our visit as the area itself is filled with beautiful history, the Museum of Islamic Art (check it out here) and El Moaz Street are both 15 minutes away from Manzil Zeinab Khatoon, as well as the beautiful Al Azhar Mosque.
The mosque, which is part of the Al Azhar entity, is regarded as one of the most important holy buildings in the region and is just a four minute walk from the Khan el-Khalili market. Al Azhar Mosque has undergone numerous renovations and has endured more than a thousand years of political changes.
Established for the purpose of spreading the Shiite Doctrine when Egypt was conquered by Al-Mu‛izzulidīn Allah, the first Fatimid Caliph in Egypt it currently teaches Islam according to the Sunni Doctrine and is considered the first mosque to be established in the city of Cairo and the oldest Fatimid monument existing in Egypt.
Entrance is free and upon entering you can see the the beautiful white marble central court, which dates back to its original construction, the building includes a large covered prayer area surrounded by architectural beauty of the Islamic era. There, we were lucky to meet Ismail who is originally from Malaysia, Ismail attends Al Azhar University and frequently visits the mosque to pray, admire the beauty of the place, and take advantage of the classes the mosque provides for those who want to learn more about Islamic.
But not everyone comes to take classes or pray; some simply come to admire the magnificence of such a facility and its architecture. Additionally, we got the opportunity to speak with several American tourists who were all amazed by not only the Al Azhar mosque, but also the by entire area and its historical significance.
This wooden door shows hat the mosque underwent new repairs during the rule of Khedive Abbas Helmy II, looking closely at the door are versus from the Holy Quran written in Arabic calligraphy.
Outside the mosque, there are multiple street vendors selling food, souvenirs, prayer mats and books and suddenly the digital age disappears and you are transformed in time. When it comes to sellers, prices are almost always negotiable so best to have a local with you, a walk way from the mosque is Naguib Mahfouz Cafe which is a must visit for authentic Egyptian food.
One of the shops caught our attention as he was selling keychains of the famous “Bougy W Tamtam”, characters that played a big part of a lot of Egyptians’ childhoods as the animated cartoon was extremely popular in the country. Shops have already started selling Ramadan lanterns (famous) and you can be sure to find all sorts of random trinkets in the market.
Even though we had a fantastic time at the Al Azhar Mosque, we strongly advise you to tour the entire area as well because you’ll discover many other hidden gems. You may safely walk the alleys of El-Darb El-Ahmar and visit museums, mosques, and historical houses because the area is very secure and the locals will always point you in the right direction.