Too often overlooked, this is one of the finest museums in Cairo, with a rare and extensive collection of Islamic art. After a major restoration to the fabric of the building, the galleries now give both a sense of place, with an explanation of the development of Islamic Cairo, and offer visitors a comprehensive collection of the finest Islamic arts.
Arranged according to medium, there are pieces from every era of development—from Ummayad to Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid,
and Mamluk works. You can see woodwork, stucco, intarsia, ceramics, glass, metalwork, textiles, and carpets.
Particularly notable items include one of the earliest Muslim tombstones, which dates from 652, only 31 years after the Prophet returned to Mecca victorious; a bronze ewer from the time of the Abbasid caliph Marwan II that has a spout in the shape of a rooster; a series of Abbasid stucco panels from both Egypt and Iraq displaying the varied styles of the time; frescoes from a Fatimid bathhouse; wooden panels from the Western Palace; carved rock crystal; a wooden piece from the Ayyubid era covered with exquisite carved inscriptions and foliage; an excellent brass-plated Mamluk door, which looks at first glance like a standard arabesque decoration but is in fact interspersed with tiny animals and foliage; and a series of mosaics from various Mamluk mosques, some made with marble and mother-of-pearl inlay.
The metalwork section contains the doors of the Mosque of al-Salih Tala'i. Metalwork inlaid with silver and gold includes incense burners, candlesticks, and vases, some with Christian symbols. There is also a set of astronomical instruments. The armor and arms hall is still impressive despite the fact that Selim, the conquering Ottoman sultan of 1517, had much of this type of booty carried off to Istanbul, where it is on display at Topkapi Palace. The ceramics display is excellent, particularly pieces from the Fatimid Era and Iran. A hall of glassware merits particular attention, especially the Mamluk mosque lamps. The collection of rare manuscripts and books is also noteworthy. At this writing, the museum was still closed for a major renovation, but the reopening was "imminent" (by Egyptian standards), which could mean several weeks or several months. It will likely reopen before the end of 2010.
Shar'a Bur Sa'id at Maydan Ahmad Maher, Cairo, Egypt
May 16, 2006
Glory of Islam? Not here....