The Sultan Hassan Mosque and madrasa (School) is considered stylistically the most compact and unified of all Cairo monuments. The building was constructed for Sultan Hassan bin Mohammad bin Qala'oun in 1256 AD as a mosque and religious school for all sects. It was designed so that each of the four main Sunni sects (orthodox Muslim, or Sunni rites, consisting of Shafite, Malikite, Hanefte and Hanbalite) has its own school while sharing the mosque. The cornices, the entrance, and the monumental staircase are particularly noteworthy.
The madrasa was originally introduced to Egypt by Saladin to suppress non-orthodox Muslim sects. There is a difference in congregational as opposed to Madrasa style Mosques such as the Sultan Hassan. While some congregational Mosques have been used as schools, those designed for that purpose generally have smaller courtyards (Sahn) and the buildings are more vertical, allowing for classroom space.
Many consider the Sultan Hassan Mosque to be the most outstanding Islamic monument in Egypt. It is of true Bahri Mameluke origin, built of stone, and while it is entirely different in design, it shares a like boldness to the Ibn Tulun Mosque. There is no architectural indulgence here, but rather self confidence in its clarity of execution and restraint. In allowing separate schools for the four Sunni rites, the Sultan Hassan is based on a classical cruciform plan, meaning that the Sahn opens from each of its sides into a separate liwan, which is an enormous vaulted hall, each serving one of the rites. While the design of liwans predates Mohammed (Peace and Prayers Be Upon Him), it was the Mamelukes who arranged them in the Cruciform manner, and as in the Sultan Hassan Mosque, advanced this architecture with the addition of a domed Mausolea. However, this Mausolea is empty, for Sultan Hassan died several years prior to its completion.
Structurally from the outside, the Mosque is very impressive, holding its own with its impressive cornice and the protruding verticals of its facade, even though it stands in the shadows of the massive Citadel. As one enters the Mosque from Sharia el Qalaa, there is an impression of height, especially from the towering doors decorated in a Mameluke fashion. Even during the Mameluke error in Cairo, building space was at a premium. Thus the outer walls are somewhat askew, in order to fit the available lot, but these designers had a wonderful way of creating the impression of uniform cubistic effect inside regardless.