The Museum Of Islamic Art In Cairo
The Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo is considered to be one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. The museum hosts more than 104,000 displays reflecting the greatness of the Islamic civilization in Egypt and the whole Islamic world and showing how it has flourished and changed throughout history.
Many of the displays of the Museum of Islamic Art were gathered from Arab and non-Arab nations and from individuals that have sold their belongings or donated them to the museum. The museum hosts many exhibits that date back to the beginning of the Islamic era up to the period of the family of Mohamed Ali.
The Museum of Islamic Art has many different types of displays including metal and wooden works, carpets, rare copies of the Qur’an, coins, minbars, and many other exhibits that amaze the visitors of the museum coming from all over the world.
The Establishment Of The Museum Of Islamic Art
The idea of establishing the museum of Islamic art goes back to 1880, when Egyptian authorities collected all the precious pieces of Islamic art from several mosques, other structures, and buildings and stored them in the eastern section of Al Hakem Mosque on Al Mui’z Street in Cairo.
Shortly afterward, these antiquities were put on display in a small museum that was specially built in the open courtyard of the Al Hakem Mosque called the House of Arabian Antiquities. The displays of the Museum of Islamic Art remained in that location until the building of the museum in 1903 and it was officially opened for public visits on December 28, 1903. After the Egyptian Revolution in 1952 the museum was renamed as the Museum of Islamic Art.
Displays In The Musuem
The number of displays at the Museum of Islamic Art has been increased and multiplied many times since its establishment. The museum had only around 7,000 displays when it first opened in 1903 but that number increased to 78,000 in 1978, 96,000 in the recent past and over 100,000 pieces today.
The displays of the Museum of Islamic Art were gathered from many different locations around Egypt. This includes the ruins of the cities of Fustat and Askar, the first Islamic capitals of Egypt before the establishment of Cairo. Some other displays were brought from Aswan, Tanis in the Nile Delta, Rashid, and Luxor. This is in addition to many other displays that were sold or donated to the museum by individuals from all over the world.
Today the Museum of Islamic Art displays some of the rarest exhibits including pottery, pieces of cloth, rocks with Islamic writings, colored windows, and many other displays. There is also the collection of Persian and Turkish pottery that the museum bought in 1945.
The Museum of Islamic Art also displays a large collection of Arabian carpets that were brought from many mosques and historical houses from all around Egypt.
The collection of carpets of the Museum grew massively when the museum took the selection of carpets that used to belong to Ali Pasha Ibrahim in 1949, which was considered to be one of the largest and most valuable collections of carpets in the whole world at the time.
Among the most distinctive displays of the museum is a tomb cover that dates back to the year 652 A.D., 12 years after Muslims took control of Egypt.
The Museum of Islamic Art also hosts many other rare displays like the pitcher that was found in a village near the governorate of Fayoum. This pitcher was part of the items that were found in the tomb of Marwan Ibn Mohamed, the last Caliph of Beni Omaya. It was made out of Bronze and it is 41 centimeters high and its diameter is 28 centimeters. This pitcher is one of the most elegant displays in the Museum of Islamic Art.
Wooden Collection In The Museum
The Museum of Islamic Art displays some marvelous wooden objects that reflect how skillful early Muslims were in the manufacturing and carving of wood. The art of wood carving flourished greatly during the Fatimid era when the wood was decorated and carved in two different styles. Some wooden decorations were found in the complex of Sultan Qalaun in El Mui’z Street that was originally brought from the Western Fatimid Palace in the area of Bein El Qasrein in Islamic Cairo. They were put on display in the museum and illustrate how clever and creative the Fatimid workers and craftsmen must have been.
Many of the wooden objects that were manufactured during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods were decorated with mother of pearl and ivory. Examples of these objects are the Qur’an holder and the chair that was brought from the Madrasa of Um El Sultan Sha’ban.
Displays From The Fatimid Period
The Museum of Islamic Art has some of the most beautiful antiquities that date back to the Fatimid period. This collection includes some remarkable jewelry especially a plain golden ring, another ring with plants ornaments, and a wonderful statue of an antelope made out of bronze.
Displays From The Mamluk Period
The Mamluks ruled over Egypt for a considerable period of time and influenced Egyptian history in many ways. This is perfectly reflected in the large collection of displays in the Museum of Islamic Art that dates back to the Mamluk period. The Mamluk collection of the museum includes many lamps that were used to light the historical mosques of Cairo. The most interesting among these lamps is an eight-sided Chandelier that consists of three layers with a dome-shaped top and wonderful Islamic decorations on its glass. This lamp was brought from the magnificent Sultan Hassan Mosque that was constructed in 1362.
There are many marvelous displays in the Museum of Islamic Art that date back to the period of the Mamluks. Among these is the pencil box rich with gold and silver decorations with the name of Sultan Al Mansur Mohamed, the Mamluk Sultan who died in 1363. There is also a wonderful candleholder that was manufactured in 1473 in the reign of Sultan Qaitbey. The candleholder has wonderful Islamic writings in the shape of some flames. This is besides many metal items that were gathered from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and many other Islamic countries.
The Section Of Islamic Ceramics
The Museum of Islamic Art displays some of rare collections of Islamic ceramics whose manufacture has flourished in the Islamic world since the early days of Islam. The most remarkable among these items is the collection of the shining Abbasid ceramics. A sahn or an open courtyard has been founded in the museum to exhibit the different types of ceramics. This Sahn dates back to thousands of years. There are also some Andalusian open courtyards with many marvelous ceramics, Iranian ceramics, Chinese porcelain and other antiquities.
The museum offers the guests a wonderful illustration of the development of ceramic production in Egypt and the Islamic world as a whole. The Mamluks played a great role in this development when they tried to copy the notable Chinese ceramics especially these with the blue decorations and the white background. The museum also has some ceramics that were produced in some Turkish cities like Iznik during the Ottoman period. Among the most distinctive rare ceramics in the museum are some tiles that were made by Chinese Muslims such as a box made out of porcelain that says “Thank God” on it.
The Wooden Collection Of The Museum
The Museum of Islamic Art displays some marvelous wooden objects that reflect how skillful the Moslems were in the manufacturing and carving on wood.
The art of wood carving has flourished greatly during the Fatimids era when the wood was decorated and carved in two different levels proving how skillful the artists of this period were.
Some wooden decorations that were found in the complex of Sultan Qalaun in El Mui’z Street that was originally brought from the Western Fatimid Palace in the area of Bein El Qasrein in Islamic Cairo are put on display in the museum and they illustrate how clever and creative the Fatimid workers and craftsmen must have been.
Many of the wooden objects that were manufactured during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods were decorated with mother of pearl and ivory. Examples of these objects are the Quran holder and the chair that was brought from the Madrasa of Um El Sultan Sha’ban.
Collection Of Copies Of The Qur’an And Collection Of Carpets
A whole section in the Museum of Islamic Art was specified for different types of the copies of the Qur’an. Most of the displays of this section date back to the Ottoman period and they were made out of gold. There are many different styles of decorations on them and marvelous types of Arabic calligraphy.
Lamp Collection In The Museum
The Museum of Islamic Art features some wonderful lamps that were used to light mosques in Egypt and some other countries as well.
Reopening Of The Museum After Restoration
After around seven years of extensive restoration work starting in 2003 former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak reopened the museum. The museum was closed to restore the building which was constructed was back in 1903 in the reign of Khedive Abbas Helmi II. The costs of the restoration of the museum were estimated to be around 10 million dollars.
Hours Of Operation
- Open Daily 9:00 AM-5:00 PM
- 9:00 AM-3:00 PM during Ramadan
General Admission: 150 LE
Student rates available to bearers of a valid student ID from an Egyptian university or an International Student ID Card (ISIC)
Midan Bab Al-Khalq
By Taxi: Ask for “mathaf fan al-Islamy” or “Bab al-Khalq”
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Cafeteria, gift shop, lecture room, archaeological garden, library and an Audio-Visual room. The museum is also wheelchair accessible. A brochure in Arabic, English, and French is also available upon request.
Phone/Fax: (02) 2390-1520
Personal photography permitted with the purchase of a ticket (LE 5 Egyptian, LE 10 Foreign). NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED