CAIRO: With more than 100,000 antiquities from India, China, Iran, Arabia, Syria, Egypt, North Africa and Andalusia, the Museum of Islamic Art in Egypt is the largest institution of its kind in world.
The museum, located in the Bab Al-Khalk area in the heart of Cairo, is also the largest educational institute in the world in the fields of Islamic archaeology and Islamic art. It is renowned for its diverse collection, which includes works in metals, wood and textiles, among other mediums.
The idea of a museum in Egypt dedicated to Islamic art and archaeology began during the rule of Ismail Pasha (the grandson of Mohammed Ali Pasha), who was khedive of Egypt and Sudan from 1863 to 1879. In 1869, court
architect Julius Franz Pasha installed a collection of Islamic archaeological artifacts in the courtyard of the then-abandoned Al-Hakem Mosque.
The collection grew when the Committee for the Preservation of Arab Antiquities was established in 1881 and was adopted by the Governor’s Mosque. Space was limited however, and a decision was made to construct the current purpose-built museum building in Bab Al-Khalq, which was initially named the House of Arab Antiquities. The foundation stone was laid in 1899, construction was completed in 1902 and the museum opened on Dec. 28, 1903. The number of items in the collection had grown by them from about 111 in 1882 to about 3,000.
The name was changed to the Museum of Islamic Art in 1952 at the start of the July 23 Revolution. The artifacts were displayed in 25 halls, divided up according to their age and materials. On Aug. 14, 2010, former President Hosni Mubarak officially reopened the museum following an eight-year project to develop and renovate it. The work was supported by the Aga Khan Foundation and carried out with the assistance of specialists from France.
On the morning of Jan. 24, 2014, the residents of Cairo felt the shock waves from a large explosion. A car bomb had exploded close to the city’s Security Directorate. Four people were killed and many buildings were badly damaged, including the Museum of Islamic Art. Many of the exhibits were damaged or destroyed, especially fragile glass pieces.
On Jan. 18, 2017, President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Khalid Al-Anani reopened the museum after three years of repairs and restoration work. New exhibits were added to replace those damaged or destroyed.
“The Museum of Islamic Art is one of the largest museums of Islamic archaeology in the world thanks to its rare archaeological artifacts related to Egypt’s Islamic heritage,” said Elham Salah, head of the museum department at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.
A tour of the museum is a hugely rewarding experience. The right side of the museum is dedicated to artifacts from the Umayyad era through to the end of the Ottoman era. The left side includes galleries dedicated to Islamic art from Turkey and Iran (Persia). It also includes halls devoted to science and engineering, along with tombstones from different eras and countries.
There are halls containing coins and weapons, and another section devoted to items used by Egyptians in their daily lived throughout history. There is also a displays of artifacts from the era of Mohammed Ali Pasha, which marked time of major transformation for the country.
Museum tour guide Aya Ahmed said that the museum also has a library on the upper floor that contains collections of rare books and manuscripts in ancient and modern languages, as well as a collection of books about Islamic and historical monuments. She added that there are also calligraphic works, including copies of the Holy Qur’an from the Ottoman era, which were written in a very precise way using brushes made of hair from a horse’s tail.