The Museums of Islamic Art and Islamic Ceramics
The Museum of Islamic Art is one of Cairo’s three main museums and houses a superb collection of antiquities from the different Islamic periods of Egypt’s history. Visitors interested in Islamic art and design should not miss this museum. The objects on display have been collected from many mosques and other monuments and it has become one of the world’s most important Islamic museums.
The collection was originally housed in the National Library which was built in 1881. The library has since been relocated and has made more space available for the exhibits.
There are artefacts from each era of Islamic rule and they are arranged either in chronological order of periods, or in subjects. There are collections of textiles, glassware, tapestries and ceramics and calligraphy from throughout the Muslim world. There are fine collections of mosque lamps, intricate mushrabiyya window screens and pulpits, inlaid metalwork and Iranian and Turkish carpets and prayer mats displayed in the 23 rooms. One of the rooms is devoted to weaponry, including medieval swords and suits of armour, another to illuminated Qur’anic manuscripts, calligraphy and books, including some ‘Persian Miniatures’. The oldest of the parchment fragments dates back to the 8th century.
Some of the treasures come from the ancient sites of Babylon and el-Fustat, the earliest towns occupying the Cairo city area. From Fustat there are wooden panels from the Fatimid Caliph’s palace, showing scenes of life in the royal court, as well as fresco paintings and carpet fragments.
There are many more beautiful artefacts in the museum, which are labelled in Arabic, English and sometimes French. In the courtyard there is a 19th century fountain which originally stood in the Monasterli Palace on Roda Island. The museum is rarely crowded, most tourists concentrate on the pharaonic museums. For refreshment, there is a cafeteria in the grounds.
It was recently proposed that the collection be moved to a site near the Citadel for ease of access by tourists, but the proposal was opposed, claiming that the current building is itself of historical interest.
How to get there
The Museum of Islamic Art is at Bab Al-Khalq. Tel 390 9930. It can be found on the north side of Midan Ahmed Maher in Central Cairo, with its main entrance at the side on Port Said Street (Sharia Burr Said). The museum is open Saturday to Thursday 9.00am to 4.00pm. On Friday it is open from 9.30am to 11.00am and 1.30pm to 4.00pm. Entrance costs EGP 40.
Museum of Islamic Ceramics
A collection of Islamic ceramics comprising over three hundred objects dating between the 10th to 19th centuries AD. The museum contains ceramic objects such as vases, tiles, bowls, etc and is beautifully housed in the recently restored, neo-Islamic summer palace built in the 1920s for Prince Amru Ibrahim. The collection includes Umayyad, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mameluke, Turkish (Iznik and Kutahia) and Spanish ceramic pieces, which together demonstrate how Islamic ceramic work drew upon and synthesised Hellenic-Byzantine, Sassanian and Chinese techniques.
The collection can be found at the Gezira Art Centre, 1 Al-Sheikh Al-Marsafi Street, Zamalek. Tel 737 3298. The museum is open daily except Friday, 10.00am to 3.00pm and 5.00pm to 10.00pm. Officially, permission is needed from the director to take photographs, but it is worth asking at the door.