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Creating Medieval Cairo

Creating Medieval Cairo: Empire, Religion, and Architectural Preservation in Nineteenth-Century Egypt

Paula Sanders
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Creating Medieval Cairo
    Book Description:

    This book argues that the historic city we know as Medieval Cairo was created in the nineteenth century by both Egyptians and Europeans against a background of four overlapping political and cultural contexts: the local Egyptian, Anglo-Egyptian, Anglo-Indian, and Ottoman imperial milieux. Addressing the interrelated topics of empire, local history, religion, and transnational heritage, historian Paula Sanders shows how Cairo’s architectural heritage became canonized in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book also explains why and how the city assumed its characteristically Mamluk appearance and situates the activities of the European-dominated architectural preservation committee (known as the Comité) within the history of religious life in nineteenth-century Cairo. Offering fresh perspectives and keen historical analysis, this volume examines the unacknowledged colonial legacy that continues to inform the practice of and debates over preservation in Cairo.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-230-0
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxxvi)

    The story of conservation in Cairo has been told in different ways. In the conventional version, conservation began in the middle of the nineteenth century, when European engineers, architects, and travelers began to clamor for the rescue of Egypt’s dilapidated Arab architecture. The scholars who tell this story focus on the history of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe, the commission founded in 1881 by Khedive Tawfiq and charged with the task of preserving Islamic monuments in Egypt. Another approach treats Egypt as a case study in orientalism, an example of Europeans’ imaginative construction of the Orient....

  6. Chapter 1 Constructing Medieval Cairo in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 1-44)

    Egypt in the nineteenth century stood at the crossroads of two great empires, the British and the Ottoman, and it also had a long history of indigenous architectural and cultural practices. I argue below that these varied parts came together under the Comité to produce a version of the city that was canonized as authentically medieval, and look at how all the elements of these overlapping imperial spheres came together in the late nineteenth century to produce what came to be referred to as Medieval Cairo.

    This chapter is made up of two large sections. In the first, I show...

  7. Chapter 2 Islam for the Modern World Medieval Cairo between Egyptian Reformers and British Critics
    (pp. 45-94)

    In Chapter 1, I considered the Mamluk orientation of Medieval Cairo and the different meanings that ‘medieval’ could have in the context of overlapping imperial and local settings: ‘not modern,’ ‘not capable of becoming modern on its own,’ but also ‘not Ottoman’ and ‘national.’ I argued that some of these meanings of the medieval were fluid and shifting, that contradictory meanings could coexist without being mutually exclusive, and that the medieval did not always reflect asymmetries of power along an East-West axis. Finally, I concluded with an assertion, namely, that Mamluk Medieval Cairo consistently signified the superiority of the West...

  8. Chapter 3 Cairo of the Arabian Nights
    (pp. 95-122)

    In 1906, Lord Curzon, chief British colonial administrator of India, was engaged in an important project: the restoration of the Taj Mahal. Not finding any mosque lamps that he thought suitable for his project, he wrote to his former protégé, Lord Cromer, Consul General of Egypt, and asked him to have a lamp designed on the model of those in Cairo’s Mamluk mosques (Figure 2.9). When that plan fell through, Curzon tried (and failed) to obtain a copy of an illustratedArabian Nightsfrom his childhood, recalling an illustration of a mosque lamp that he thought suitable. Disappointed, he finally...

  9. Chapter 4 Keeping Cairo Medieval World Heritage and the Debate over Fatimid Monuments
    (pp. 123-152)

    Medieval Cairo, I have argued, was constructed in the late nineteenth century and became canonical soon thereafter. By the first decade of the twentieth century, Medieval Cairo, with its characteristically Mamluk appearance, was a given, regardless of the many names by which it was (or would later be) called: ‘Cairo of the Arabian Nights,’ ‘Arab Cairo,’ ‘Medieval Cairo,’ ‘historic Cairo,’ ‘the historic center of Cairo,’ ‘Cairo’s historic district,’ and, sometimes, ‘Fatimid Cairo,’ in a nod to the dynasty that founded the palace city of Cairo in the tenth century. Throughout the twentieth century, Medieval Cairo continued to draw the attention...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 153-156)

    In the first half of this book, I reframed the story of conservation in imperial and local contexts and in the context of nineteenth-century religious life in order to demonstrate how different economic, architectural, religious, and political policies and practices accumulated over time and how together they produced Medieval Cairo. What have we gained by restoring both the larger narrative of Medieval Cairo’s creation and more particular aspects of its history to the broader contexts from which they have conventionally been isolated? In Chapter 1, we saw that situating the story of Medieval Cairo in the context of British India...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 157-158)

    A visit to the Mamluk mosque of al-Zahir Baybars in 1996 revealed a surprising addition to the mosque, then being restored by an Egyptian team: it was being paved in white marble. When asked about the marble, the workers on the site commented that the architects supervising their work had seen the restored al-Hakim mosque and liked it, so they decided to incorporate the white marble into their restoration. Now, a decade later, several other Mamluk-era mosques also boast white marble in their interiors. The process of amalgamation and recontextualization continues, and along with it, the competition among multiple contexts...

  12. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 159-174)
  13. Index
    (pp. 175-182)