TR4:: Exploring The Real Chambers of Tulun

On the Mosque of Ahmed Ibn Tulun

 Remember Tomb Raider 4 and Egypt? One of my favorite levels was the Chambers of Tulun. Any Tomb Raider fan that has played that game would remember that level. How many of you believe Tulun was a city? I see some hands raised! It may interest you to know that Tulun was a real person, and the reason Cairo is prominent in this level is that the chambers of Tulun are in Old Cairo also known as medieval Cairo. Let’s explore the real-life Tulun, where and what it is, and how the game concept echoes this amazing location and its history.

About Tulun, the game level’s namesake:


Ahmed ibn Tulun (Ahmed son of Tulun) “ibn” means “son” was a Muslim slave, and the founder of the Tulunid Dynasty (868-905 AD), in Egypt. He was born in Bagdad, and his father was Turkish and Mongol in origin, and he too was a slave. Also, Ahmed became the first governor of Egypt to annex Syria.

When Ahmed was very young, he was taken into private service as a slave for the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad. After his days as a slave in Baghdad, he studied Islamic theology in Tarsus. He had a successful life rising in rank in the Abbasid government. It was in 868 AD he became a lieutenant under the governor of Egypt.

Ahmed was a clever man, and while in Egypt, learned the center of authority resided in the department of finance. For a few years, he sought to take control of it. His diligence paid off when he became vice-governor. He devised a plan to elevate his position within the government, in turn, he had to manipulate the caliph.

He knew he must create a reason that would appear believable to an upper authority for him to increase his power within the government structure. What he did was use the rebellion in Palestine as an excuse to buy an enormous amount of slaves to strengthen his army, resulting in the basis of his personal authority being increased, just as he had planned under the unsuspecting nose of the caliph.

Ahmed’s timing was perfect for his plan to rise to power, for the caliph found himself preoccupied with matters of the Zanj rebellion to spare the necessary military force needed to stop Ahmed. So under the excuse of fighting a holy war against the Byzantine Empire, he annexed Syria, in turn, he gained more power through military backing resulting in his complete independence from the caliph.

Astute he was, and he devoted his talent towards developing wondrous policies that created much prosperity in Egypt through increasing agriculture and compounding tax revenues. The fact the treasury had a vast surplus that remained even to the time of his death proved this point. He shall always be remembered by his mosque the Ahmed Ibn Tulun located in old Cairo.

Game Contrasts & Motivations


Now, you know a bit about the namesake of the actual mosque the Chambers of Tulun was inspired. Let’s dig a bit more and use some interesting comparisons. Let’s examine the game versions against the real-life Tulun.

Wall Top
You can see the crenelation on the top of the wall ahead. It looks crisscrossed.
Along the top of the actual wall is the same design they used in the game. You will see more in the next few examples, for it is in many areas of the Tulun mosque.
Do you remember this minaret in the game? It has stairs spiraling, wrapping around its cylindrical body. Look closely or better yet, re-play the game!
The minaret from the real Tulun

They changed the design a for the game a little; however, the main elements from the actual minaret are still apparent. Notice the steps a lot clearer in this shot from the game. They modified the arches and added them in another area, perhaps to make the one in the game unique.

To illustrate how the minaret in the game is an element from the Tulun mosque, in this shot it is attached on top of the roof Lara is running about. In reality, it is part of the Tulun Mosque which is behind the Sarghatmish Madrasa which this roof resembles a lot. It is another case of merging the two, to make the one found in Tomb Raider 4. Also, the real minaret of the real Tulun would not be facing in the direction it is here. If she was supposed to be in the other one, for it is on the other side, as a forthcoming photo will illustrate. It has been positioned to fit with the architectural elements blended together for the game version.


In the game, these two structures appear close. In fact, in TR4 the roof has niches in it and levers.
Tulun 5
A game perspective of niche dome on the roof of the Tulun Mosque

Then we have this domed building off to the left of the minaret with spiraling stairs. All of the views above can be seen here to illustrate how the real-life building and this similar vista was what the design team for Tomb Raider 4 drew their inspiration.


Ahmed ibn Tulun


In fact, though located in different positions for the game, this was the initial view that must have sparked the idea for the overall look of the minaret and the prayer dome they placed next to the minaret. However, in real-life the white domed building on the left of Lara when she swings across on the rope is located opposite side from it and would not be in view from Lara’s position in the game. It resides on the roof, however.


 The small dome on the roof is the dome in question and is clearly nowhere in sight of the minaret. Of course, all buildings in the game were adaptations of the real thing, and that is why the dome in the game resembles the fountain dome in the middle of the large courtyard; however, it is easy to see the influences throughout when you examine them.

Something else that stands out about the game version of the Tulun building, or layout, is the rooftop and the inner area of the complex. It is far smaller. The roof of the Tulun is long and flat. However, the Madrasa (pictured below), in Cairo, also referred to as the Mosque of Amir al-Sayf Sarghatmish, built in 1356 and most certainly far newer than the Tulun mosque, looks a lot closer to the layout the designers created for the rooftop. Additionally, it resides behind the Tulun mosque.


Though the Tulun minaret is in the wrong position, the rooftop here, and the way the dome is seated on the roof is very similar to the way it is made for the game. Even the design for the arches in the courtyard below. It is clear they used parts of this building and the Tulun mosque proper for the version we see in the game. Very convenient as well, for they are next to each other.

 It is clear the design came from here. Note the roof and how it is not one smooth plane as the Tulun mosque, and that Lara could swing across the courtyard shown here. This is a probable inspiration for the overall game layout. The domes are different, but they are indeed seated on the roof in a similar fashion as the ones in the game are. I would say; the elements from the real-Tulun were used for the noteworthy structures, and motif and the connecting elements to afford Lara passage through areas, but keeping it in the same theme, and what could be found in a mosque such as the Tulun, they used and adapted certain elements from both, and then merged them together to make the level we know as “The Chambers of Tulun.”

Thank you for viewing. I shall return with another article about the fantastic places in the world that our Lara explores. Bye for now. 

Explore the World! 


Copyright © Okh Eshivar aka Emma Q 2017

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