Cairo is the landmark of many of the world’s historical Islamic sites and monuments. Be it splendid palaces like Muhammed Ali’s Palace or vast gardens like Orman Garden, Cairo has it all. The largest collection of Islamic Art in the world is available to display to everyone. Cairo’s Islamic Art Museum (or the MIA) was officially opened in 2010 after nearly a decade of renovations. From arms to metalworks to ancient Qurans, many thousands of artefacts from all over the Islamic World are housing this historic collection. With new lighting and displays in each of the 25 halls, officials say this museum is unlike any other in Egypt.
The very beginning of The Islamic Art Museum was with Max Hurts. He was an Arctechtiure in the Ministry of Awqaf and he took a decision to establish the origins of the museum to be a small museum called The House of Arab Antiquities in Al-Hakim Mosque in Al Moez Street. After that, he requested from the Ministry of Awqaf to put a larger museum in Bab El Louk Square and they accepted his request in 1889. It was later opened in 1903.
The Islamic Art Museum consists of three floors: A basement as a store and restoration area, the second floor for exhibitions, and the third floor was used as a big store for ceramic artefacts and a bookstore (worth noting that behind the museum there is a building called The Arab Books House and it was opened in 2007.)
The collection of the museum was a very small collection, only 4000 pieces in the time of its opening. After that period, during the next 70 years, the number of collections had increased tremendously through excavations, purchasing artefacts from outside, as well as some donations from the mother of Khedive Ismail. So the collection now is a bit over 100,000 artefacts.
After 100 years, in 2003, the building became very weak. The building’s pillars started to collapse and it was a huge problem for the Supreme Council and Ministry of Culture. When they started renovations they faced a lot of problems; once they solved an issue, another one came up. The foundations of the building, the columns, the walls, they were all crumbling down. But the Egyptians knew their way around and these issues were actually incentives for them to figure out ways to renew the exterior outlays of the building. Then they started working on the interior design regarding the showcases. The most important thing in the museum was that the interior design focused on exhibiting the artefacts in a modern, elegant way. A huge amount of work had to be done.
Sadly, in 2014, The Islamic Art Museum sustained severe damage when a car bomb exploded outside the adjacent Cairo Security Directorate building. The blast destroyed the facade of the building, several columns, display cases and artefacts, as well as the nearby Egyptian National Library and Archives building.
It reopened in January of this year after a three-year restoration programme funded by the United Arab Emirates and UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nation, as well Switzerland, the United States and Italy.
The Islamic Art Museum hosts a wealth of artefacts that include some of the rarest pieces of wood carvings, ceramics, textiles, manuscripts, as well as gold jewellery from the Umayyad, Abbasid, Tulunid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.
Historians often see The Umayyad period as the most constructive period in Islamic art. Artists kept working in a seamless manner and formed great art, even after taking up Arabic and Islam as the official doctrines of the state. Artists took no shame in adapting well-known forms of art from the outside. The other crucial part was related to the demands of the new faith: the religious conceptions of human life and purpose, of the nature of the divine, of the social bond and sociopolitical organization as determined by the divine will and the divine plan for humanity.
Artists, craftsmen, and architects were challenged, to give form and expression. They set up new values and ideas to their art and defiantly gave a new identity to Islamic art.
After the fall of the Ummayad Caliphate in 750 AD, the Muslim empire throne was taken up by the Abbasid dynasty. The first caliph of the new dynasty, Abu Abbas As-Saffah, brought the capital city of the Islamic empire from Damascus to Baghdad. It is during this time, together with the rise of another dynasty named the Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain, that Islam undertook what’s historically known as the Golden Age. The Abbasid era in Islamic history spanned from 750 to 1258. This period is noteworthy for Islamic rule from Syria to Iraq and the founding of the capital city of Baghdad in 762. A second major city, Samarra, also briefly became the capital city some years later. During the Abbasid era, Baghdad and Samarra were the cultural hubs of the Islamic world, and artwork and architecture produced during this golden age are distinctive in its style and influences. Since the style set by the capital was used throughout the Muslim world, Baghdad and Samarra’ became associated with the new artistic and architectural trend.
The long period of Fatimid rule, lasting almost three centuries, and the dynasty’s political and ideological principles brought with them a major art revival. The monuments of the period deliver sheer and evident presence of the art of the era, with their many new or additional features deriving from the traditions and cultures of the locations where they were distributed. Fatimid art, particularly textiles, ceramics, carved rock crystal, and metalwork, has been admired for centuries. The European merchants and crusaders were the ones who initially took these artworks and then they were later preserved as relics in museums (like The Islamic Art Museum many centuries later) and churches.
The Ayyubid dynasty came to power under the leadership of the Kurdish Zengid general Salah al-Din, known in Europe as Saladin. In the arts, the Ayyubids are known especially for their works in inlaid metalwork and ceramics. Some objects from this period, including a group of inlaid metalwork pieces, also have Christian scenes.
Following the Ayyubid state in 1250 AD, the Mamluk sultans established a formidable empire, ruling Egypt, Syria, and Palestine for more than two hundred and fifty years, their frontiers extending from southeastern Anatolia to the Hijaz and incorporating parts of Sudan and Libya. The exquisite illuminations, calligraphy, and bindings of Mamluk Qurans are unequalled in any other Islamic tradition of bookmaking. The technical and artistic virtuosity found in these manuscripts is representative of the Mamluks, who, embracing Islam with the fervour of converts, endowed elaborate religious complexes and supplied each major foundation with its set of Qurans.
With the conquest of the Mamluk empire in 1517, the Ottomans ruled over the most powerful state in the Islamic world. In the arts, there is an inadequateness of existing objects from the early Ottoman period, but it is apparent from surviving buildings that Byzantine, Mamluk, and Persian traditions were integrated to form a distinctly Ottoman artistic vocabulary.
Egypt is full of art museums and exhibitions from its head to toe. The Islamic Art Museum is a must-go for anyone who desires to be fascinated by the many, many sublime artworks of ancient and modern history.
The Islamic Art Museum is very close to the Downtown area which is heaped with other gorgeous landmarks that’s absolutely worth checking.