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Ibn Tulun Mosque and Gayer-Anderson Museum, Cairo

Al-Basatin Street
Egypt's insider take:

The Ahmad Ibn Tulun Mosque (dedicated to Egypt's ninth-century ruler, born to a Turkish slave of Mongol origins) is one of the largest mosques in the world and perhaps the most beautiful in Egypt. A combination of grandeur and spare elegance, evoking the mosque's origin as the courtyard of the Prophet Muhammed's own house in Mecca, it incorporates a massive square cloister, covered with a mile-long sycamore frieze inscribed with verses from the Koran. Climb the minaret, the only one in Cairo with an open-air staircase, and you'll enjoy one of the city's best views. The Pyramids are sometimes visible in the distance beyond the city's skyscrapers; just below the mosque, the maze of smaller minarets and dun-colored rooftops sprouting pigeon coops and satellite dishes leads the eye toward Saladin's imposing mountaintop Citadel. Mosque guardians rent shoe covers, so there's no need to go barefoot; they also keep the key to the minaret and will open it for a small tip even if it's officially closed.

The Gayer-Anderson Museum occupies two adjoining early Ottoman houses abutting Ibn Tulun's southeast corner. It contains the furniture and art collection of the houses' last occupant, British army major John Gayer-Anderson. A colonial doctor and a connoisseur not just of Islamic art but of the strange and wonderful, Gayer-Anderson roamed all over Egypt searching for Islamic birthing chairs, marble hand-washing fountains, ceremonial weapons, pharaonic fetish sculptures, and other curiosities. Look for the room devoted to the pasha Mohammed Ali, the 17th-century Damascus room, and the library containing a pastel portrait of Gayer-Anderson as the Sphinx.

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