History – Brief Look Into the Development of Islamic Art and Architecture in Egypt

Islam came into Egypt during the earlier conquests done by the Caliphates of Islam, around 639 AD, During the reign of the Rashidun Caliphates,specifically under the orders of Caliph Umar , taking over the reign of the Byzantine empire . During this time, little development, whether in infrastructure of in aesthetics, were made in Egypt, because developments are most rapid in the capitals of the respective caliphate during that time – at first, Medina and Kufah during the Rashidun Caliphate, and then in Damascus with the rule of the Umayyads.

The Tulunids, a vassal of the Abbasid Caliphate came to power in 868-905 C.E in Egypt, established by Ahmad Ibn Tulun. The Caliphate is an independent center that broke away from the current Abbasid Caliphate. It came to be when Ibn Tulun was sent to Egypt as a resident governor. He then took power and ruled Egypt independently from the Abbasid Caliphate.  During his reign he built the infrastructure in Egypt particularly in his own newly established city Al-Qatta’i, north of Fustat, the city before his rule.  however little remains are left from that period. The famous remains of that period must be the mosque with his namesake – The Mosque of Ibn Tulun. The mosque architecture follows closely to the plans utilized by the former caliphates (for example, the Umayyad mosque in Damascus) where the building is built around a large space or courtyard, with the main prayer hall and the dome is supported by multiple columns. This plan is to be used by many mosques afterwards, and serves as a model for later buildings particularly in North Africa.The whole building  is simple, and uses the local building materials, with carvings and decoration mainly influenced by the Ummayad and Abbasid empires, as well as Byzantine and Roman influences.

Author - Arab League User

The Mosque of Ibn Tulun, in Al-Qatta’i, modern day Cairo.

Under the Fatimid Dynasty, in 909-1171 AD, Egypt remained a cultural center for the Islamic empire. The Egyptian craftsmen and artisan still uses the old ancient Egyptian aesthetics and this shows in the buildings during the rules of the Islamic empires that made Egypt a part of their domain, and it goes on up to the Mamluke Period in 1250 -1517, where the Ancient Egyptian tradition is still continued, however, influences of Syrian and Iraqi styles slowly seeps through. Buildings that were made in the Mamluke dynasty are mostly he ones which still stands today in Old Cairo.

The buildings in these periods in Egypt are mostly made in stone or bricks, because the material are readily available locally. However, the decorations – intricate carvings on domes, painted ceilings, marble inlays are passed down for the ancients to the Islamic artisans with aesthetics taken from traditional Islamic art e.g geometrical stars or arabesques and calligraphies.

The Al-Azhar complex of Mosque and University. The Marble courtyard is built during the Fatimid dynasty, while the two minarets in the foreground is of Mamluke origin ; the double-finial minaret is attributed to Qansah Al-Ghuri, while the middle one is to Qaytbey.


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