Museum of Islamic Art: Impeccable Homage to Egypt’s Islamic History
Those visiting Cairo will find travel guides split on whether or not a trip to the Museum of Islamic Art is a good idea.
Following the January 25th Revolution, tourism has taken a steep decline in Egypt. This has caused the, supposedly temporary, closure of some of Cairo’s museums and historical sites. In regards to the Museum of Islamic Art, this has caused much confusion among potential visitors in conjunction with the museums eight-year, $10 million renovation. Said renovation was completed in 2010, and so let it be known once and for all, that the Museum of Islamic Art is very much alive and well worth a visit.
Unlike its big brother museum, the Egyptian Museum in Downtown Cairo, the wonder of Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art lies in its intricacies and the detail of the pieces displayed in it. It’s hard to compete with the sheer magnitude of the Egyptian Museum’s collection of ancient artefacts and antiquities; the staggering size and quantity of which cannot fail to impress. However, this is a museum that bids visitors to look a little closer, as the beauty of its collection is in the craftsmanship and artistic expertise, which includes mesmerising examples from each age of Islamic history.
The collection begins arranged by period, and throughout the museum, large signs explain the origin and context of each era visitors pass through. The information displayed is perfectly pitched, including overviews of arching historical background, as well as details and context of the culture that created the pieces.
There are also maps showing how and when the Islamic empire came to be. General information is available in English and Arabic, but a more in depth understanding of the individual pieces is denied to most tourists, as the paragraphs detailing each artefact are only in Arabic.
The museum spreads from the time of the Ummayad Empire and trails right up to the modern day, with pieces from as recently as the 1970s. Most of the collection comes from the Islamic quarter of Cairo, which is just down the street from the museum, meaning that if culture vultures want the full experience, they can visit the sites and buildings from which these pieces originated.
The collection is varied and displays the very best of Islamic art in all its forms. Far from being your average art gallery, this collection features woodcarvings on mammoth mosque doors, inlaid marble fountains, gold-leaf religious texts, ceramics, jewellery and furniture.
Highlights include the beautifully preserved stain glass windows, which are vivid in their colours and motifs. Even a lunchbox and a pencil case are displayed, which pay homage to influence of Islamic Art on even mundane, domestic objects from the past.
There are also sections dedicated to medical and funerary displays, which are eerily fascinating and provide an interesting perspective on what art is, as well as an insight into the lives of the people during these times. Another surprising section is the collection of Persian-Chinese art from the Mamluk age, which gives a lesser-seen glimpse into a meeting of cultures.
The museum also has a small outdoor area, but it has not been fully made use of to display the collection, and in fact leads into a police station – which does not take kindly to being mistaken for an annex of the museum.
Millions have been spent on creating this museum and it shows in the elegance and sophistication with which the building has been restored and in the display itself.
Rumours of closure may in fact have done the museum a favour as it is overlooked by many meaning it’s a quiet, relaxed establishment where you can spend a peaceful couple of hours touring the display – but like the others, it still has a vigorously enforced no cameras policy.
The museum is open every day between 9AM and 4PM. Tickets prices are 50LE for foreigners and 2LE for locals.