The Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque is the most historic and most beautiful mosque in Alexandria. It was built primarily in 1775 over the tomb of a Spanish scholar and saint, Abu El Abbas El Mursi (1219-86), and stands on Mosque Square overlooking the eastern harbor.
Abu al-Abbas lived in Alexandria for 43 years as a scholar and teacher until his death in 1286. He was buried in a small building near the eastern harbor in Alexandria.
The mosque was built in two years beginning in 971 AD. The school of theology (madrassa) connected with it was founded in 988 as an Ismaili Shia school, but it later became a Sunni school, which it remains to this day. It claims to be the oldest Islamic university in the world, but this is disputed by the Kairaouine Mosque in Fes, Morocco.
In 1307, El Sheikh Zein El Din Ibn El Qattan, one of the richest traders of Alexandria, visited the tomb. He funded a mausoleum and dome for the tomb, along with a small mosque. The tomb of Abu al-Abbas became a place of pilgrimage for many Muslims from Egypt and Morocco who passed through Alexandria on their way to and from Mecca.
The mosque was periodically restored over the centuries by rulers who built themselves tombs next to the saint. Most of the present structure dates from 1775, when the Algerian Sheikh Abu el Hassan El Maghreby built a much larger mosque on the site. It was fully renovated in 1863, and an annual festival was established to celebrate the birth of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi.
The mosque was again beautified in 1943 under King Farouq I (r.1937-1952), who built the Midan el Masaged, or “Mosque Square.” The square covers some 43,200 square meters and includes five other mosques centered around the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque. The mosque was renovated in the Arabian style that was popular when the saint came to Alexandria in the 13th century, at a total cost of about 140,000 LE.
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