This mosque represents just one of the many projects commenced by Muhammad cAli, the energetic governor of Egypt under the Ottoman sultans from 1805 to 1848. The site for the mosque is in the Mamluk citadel of Cairo, developed in the fourteenth century, where it replaced the badly damaged palace of the sultan al-Nasir Muhammad. In form, the building falls in the line of the (by then) canonical Ottoman mosque, with a roughly square courtyard and prayer hall, the latter covered by a large central dome flanked by four semi-domes. Local references can be found, however, in the typically Mamluk-style minarets. A tower on the northwest corner of the court houses a clock donated to the Egyptian state by the French king, given in exchange for the obelisk that now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. With an area of over 5,000 meters, it was the largest mosque built at the time and the building can be seen as a gesture of self-glorification by Muhammad cAli, who often chafed under the yoke of the Ottomans.
The photograph comes from an album compiled in 1885 that contains pictures taken by Félix Bonfils, J. Pascal Sébah, and other anonymous artists. Such albums were purchased by tourists, who selected the photographs they wanted from professional studios in the countries they traveled to; soon, however, photographs of popular sites in the Holy Land and Egypt were available to the curious in cities throughout Europe.