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Islamic Monuments in Cairo

Islamic Monuments in Cairo: The Practical Guide. New Revised Edition

Caroline Williams
Drawings by Jaroslaw Dobrowolski
Maps by Ola Seif
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 316
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  • Book Info
    Islamic Monuments in Cairo
    Book Description:

    Cairo’s Islamic monuments are part of an uninterrupted tradition that spans over a thousand years of building activity. No other Islamic city can equal Cairo’s spectacular heritage, nor trace its historical and architectural development with such clarity. The discovery of this historic core, first visually by nineteenth-century western artists then intellectually by twentieth-century Islamic art specialists, now awaits the delight of the general visitor. This new, fully revised edition of a popular and handy guide continues to walk the visitor around two hundred of the city’s most interesting Islamic monuments. It also keeps pace with recent restoration initiatives and newly opened monuments such as the Amir Taz Palace and the Sitt Wasila House. “This book ought to be in the luggage of every visitor to Cairo. Furthermore, once home, lovers and students of Cairo’s architecture will find it a convenient and accurate quick reference as well as a cherished souvenir of many profitable and enjoyable rambles among the monuments of Cairo." —Jonathan M. Bloom, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt “Any visitor to Cairo who wants to see the monuments should not be without it." —Bernard O’Kane “Anyone interested in knowing more about Cairo’s Islamic architecture should pick up the excellent Islamic Monuments in Cairo: The Practical Guide." —Lonely Planet: Cairo, 1998

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-278-2
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Religion, Middle East Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. How to Use This Book
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Chapter 1 Historical Summary and Chronology
    (pp. 1-22)

    Cairo is an unequaled treasure house of Islamic architecture. Built over a span of a thousand years, Cairo’s historic center contains the most concentrated, the most numerous, the most varied collection of monuments in the Islamic world. But Cairo is not only a sum of its monuments; its historic center remains also a dynamic urban organism. Medieval Cairo was the city where the tales of theThousand and One Nightswere collected, and it was in the narrow streets of Bayn al-Qasrayn and the Darb al-Ahmar that many of the characters of those tales were supposed to have lived. Over...

  6. Chapter 2 Architectural and Ornamental Summary
    (pp. 23-36)

    Most of the monuments described here are religious, such as mosques and complexes; a few are secular: city walls, inns, and houses. At first glance, the religious structures may seem to offer a certain sameness, but they do have distinct styles, and while the decoration may seem repetitive, it also has discrete meanings. The following may make both the religious and the secular buildings and their decorations more understandable.

    The Mosque. The only absolute requirement for a mosque in Islam is that it set off or demarcate a space in which people may gather to say prayers while facing in...

  7. Chapter 3 The Island of Roda and Old Cairo
    (pp. 37-46)

    Nilometer*** (No. 79) 861/247. Built after the Arab conquest, this is the oldest monument in Cairo that survives in its original form. It is situated on the southern tip of the island of Roda. The Nilometer is housed in a little building with a pointed roof, which is a recent reconstruction of a Turkish original. The pavilion, on the west, is all that remains of thePalace of Hasan Pasha al-Munastirli, built around 1830. It was part of thesalamlik, or public area, and is now used by the government for official receptions and concerts. On the east is the...

  8. Chapter 4 The Mosque of Ahmad ibn Tulun and Sharia Saliba
    (pp. 47-64)

    Until the fourteenth century, this area between Old Cairo-Fustat and al-Qahira, which comprised both the former site of the Tulunid royal suburb known as al-Qata’i‘ and a large pond known as Birkat al-Fil (‘elephant pond,’ because its long extension looked like a trunk), was dotted with waste and rubbish heaps, interspersed with cemeteries and individual estates or parks. The redevelopment of the Citadel under Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad in the fourteenth century led to the transformation of this zone into an urban area and Sharia Saliba into an important street. The street intersects with the older Qasaba/Sharia al-Khalifa (Chapter 8, Section...

  9. Chapter 5 The Madrasa of Sultan Hasan and Bab al-Wazir
    (pp. 65-80)

    The monuments in this chapter are primarily those that ring the great square below the Citadel known variously as Maydan al-Qal‘a (Citadel Square), Maydan Muhammad ‘Ali, or Maydan Rumayla. The square, which today seems no more than a busy traffic roundabout, was once the setting for elaborate court ceremonies, equestrian games, military exercises, and religious processions. It was a defined and very prestigious area of urban space, and to emphasize this fact, the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (now the SCA) included these buildings in a major restoration program of the Citadel completed in 1988. This initiative consisted of structural repairs, cleaning,...

  10. Chapter 6 From the Mosque of Sultan Hasan to Bab Zuwayla (Darb al-Ahmar)
    (pp. 81-102)

    The street that connects Bab Zuwayla with the Citadel, like many in Cairo, has several names: Darb al-Ahmar, Tabbana, Bab al-Wazir, al-Mahgar. It also forks in the middle, so there are three parts to this walk. This district, outside the southern wall of the Fatimid city, was originally the site of Fatimid and Ayyubid cemeteries. Not until Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad developed the Citadel as the seat of political, military, and administrative power and actively encouraged development did the area become a fashionable place to build and a principal area of urban expansion. Most of its present monuments, therefore, date from...

  11. Chapter 7 Bab Zuwayla to Sharia Saliba
    (pp. 103-114)

    Bab Zuwayla is the starting point for several interesting walks. This one, going south, can be done in two easy stages or in one fairly long excursion, depending on how many monuments one examines carefully along the way. The Street of the Tentmakers is the continuation of the Qasaba, the main thoroughfare of the medieval al-Qahira period, and leads from the southern gate of the Fatimid enclosure, that is, Bab Zuwayla, to the Qarala, or the Southern Cemetery. Dotted with monuments throughout its length, this was the longest street of the medieval city.

    Mosque of Salih Tala’i‘ ** (No. 116)...

  12. Chapter 8 The Southern Cemetery
    (pp. 115-138)

    The great Southern Cemetery, or the Qarafa, stretches east of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, south of the Citadel, and almost to the outskirts of Ma‘adi. A very long day is necessary to visit all of the monuments. For the sake of convenience, therefore, the main areas of this great burial ground have been divided into three parts.

    Just northeast of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Sharia Saliba intersects with Sharia Suyufiya at the Sabil of Umm ‘Abbas (see map 2 and Chapter 7). Sharia Suyufiya is the continuation of the Qasaba, the main street of the medieval city that...

  13. Chapter 9 Sharia Port Said—On and Off
    (pp. 139-162)

    Sharia Port Said, or Sharia Khalig al-Misri, as its old name attests, was the site of the canal dug during Pharaoh Necho’s rule to link the Nile with the Red Sea and later formed the western boundary of the city of al-Qahira. In 1898 it was filled in. When the Belgian industrialist Baron Empain, who built the satellite city of Heliopolis, was granted a concession to establish a tram system for Cairo, one of the first lines laid down was along the old canal, from the Husayniya quarter beyond the north walls to Sayyida Zaynab.

    Many monuments are located along...

  14. Chapter 10 Bab Zuwayla to the Mosque of al-Azhar
    (pp. 163-180)

    From Maydan Ahmad Mahir (site of the Museum of Islamic Art) on Sharia Port Said, turn east on Sharia Ahmad Mahir, a street lined with the shops of tombstone-carvers, parasol-makers, and tin lanterns that children carry on Ramadan nights, among others.

    An alternative approach to Bab Zuwayla is to walk south from the complex of Sultan al-Ghuri on Sharia al-Azhar for 350 meters until reaching Bab Zuwayla, in effect reversing the itinerary outlined in this chapter.

    As one walks along Sharia Ahmad Mahir one passes, on the right, theMosque of al-Mar’aorFatima Shagra(No. 195, 1408–69/873). The...

  15. Chapter 11 Al-Azhar Square to Bab al-Futuh and Back
    (pp. 181-220)

    This area was the heart of Fatimid Cairo. It contains the highest and most varied concentration of medieval monuments in the city. The most logical way to see it is by walking up Sharia al-Mu‘izz li-Din Allah (the Qasaba, or main north-south artery of Fatimid Cairo) to Bab al-Futuh, along the north walls to Bab al-Nasr, then down Sharia al-Gamaliya to Maydan Sayyidna al-Husayn. Interesting monuments are also located on cross streets and alleys between these two streets. To be seen thoroughly, the monuments in this chapter should be visited over several days. If that is not possible, concentrate on...

  16. Chapter 12 The Citadel
    (pp. 221-232)

    The Citadel, situated on a spur of the Muqattam Hills, dominated Cairo and was the nerve center of the city and of Egypt for almost seven hundred years. The Citadel hill had been favored by the earliest rulers of Cairo as a spot for taking the air, but the first major construction work there was the fortress begun by Salah al-Din in 1176.

    Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt, came to power when a Crusader force threatened to attack the Fatimids, whose strength was ebbing in 1168. They appealed for help to Nur al-Din,...

  17. Chapter 13 The Northern Cemetery
    (pp. 233-250)

    Stretching for some six kilometers on either side of the Citadel are the great cemeteries of Cairo. To the casual visitor coming in from the airport via the Citadel road, the Northern Cemetery, lying at the foot of the Muqattam Hills, seems cluttered and dusty, a jumble of buildings and satellite discs with interspersed domes rising up among them. One sees little to indicate that the place is worth visiting. The Southern Cemetery (Chapter 8), which is even vaster, is skirted at only one point by most visitors, as they start climbing the ridge south of the Citadel, and few...

  18. Chapter 14 Al-Husayniya and the Mosque of Sultan Baybars I
    (pp. 251-254)

    Mosque of Sultan Baybars I (al-Zahir Baybars al-Bunduqdari)** (No. 1) 1269/667. This mosque is off the beaten track, not really close to any of the main monuments. It can be visited either as an extension of the monuments listed in Chapter 9 or from Bab al-Futuh. From the complex of Qadi Yahya go north on Sharia Port Said. It intersects Sharia al-Gaysh (‘Army Street’). Continue north to Maydan al-Gaysh. Sharia al-‘Abbasiya is the street that connects Maydan al-Gaysh with Maydan al-Zahir, where the mosque is located. This is the only medieval monument surviving in the Husayniya quarter, which extended northward...

  19. Chapter 15 Bulaq
    (pp. 255-260)

    As is Egypt, so is Cairo the gift of the Nile. The course of the Nile over the centuries has shifted westward, most notably between 1050 and 1350, making new lands available for development. Bulaq, a name that probably derives from the Coptic word for ‘marsh,’ began modestly in the fourteenth century by taking over the port city functions of al-Maqs, the Fatimid port, which had dried up as the river bed shifted. Bulaq at first was a convenient anchorage for boats coming from the Delta and a cereals port supplying the markets outside the north walls.

    In the fifteenth...

  20. Glossary
    (pp. 261-264)
    (pp. 265-266)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-270)
  23. Maps
    (pp. 271-284)
  24. Index
    (pp. 285-294)