Museum celebrates Art Arabe anniversary

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 19 Dec 2023

A scientific seminar and a temporary exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art celebrate the 142nd anniversary of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe.

Museum of Art
Museum of Islamic art. Photo: Ahram

 

Since its establishment In December 1881 by Khedive Tawfiq, the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe played a pivotal role in safeguarding Egypt's architectural marvels and cultural treasures, leaving an indelible mark on the history of Egyptian heritage conservation. 

This week, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities celebrates the Comité’s 142nd anniversary with a scientific seminar in collaboration with the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) and the French Institute for Oriental Studies (IFAO) in addition to a temporary exhibition highlighting the efforts exerted by the Comité to preserve and document the monuments.

Hani El-Tayeb, head of the scientific bureau at the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities explains that the scientific seminar will feature lectures on developing skills for scientific writing, targeted at archaeologists and researchers.

These lectures are followed by educational workshops narrating the history of the MIA. These in turn will be followed by workshops on the ancient Egyptian papyrus industry and Arabic calligraphy.

Ahmed Siam, director of MIA said that the exhibition features a collection of glass negatives of Islamic and Coptic artifacts and teaches participants to use survey tools such as the Cook balance, an electronic printing machine as well as a set of tools for cataloguing Islamic and Coptic artifacts.


The Comité 

During the 19th century, Egypt found itself at a crossroads of cultural transition. The Comité emerged during a time when the preservation of Islamic and Coptic monuments was threatened by urban development and modernization. The visionary establishment of the Comité underscored a commitment to protecting the nation's cultural identity and historical legacy.

Ahmed El-Nemr, a member of the scientific bureau at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said that the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l'Art Arabe operated under the Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments). Comprising two sub-committees, the First Commission meticulously catalogued every Islamic and Coptic monument in Egypt, identifying those in urgent need of attention. The Technical Commission then visited these monuments, providing expert recommendations based on their architectural and artistic significance.

In the majority of cases, efforts focused on reinforcing decaying structures, repairing old columns and pillars, and implementing extensive cleaning programs. The committee recognized the sanctity of places of worship, ensuring that mosques retained their essential character even during restoration efforts.

While preservation was paramount, the Comité undertook restoration projects when deemed necessary for practical purposes. Notable examples include the comprehensive restoration of the Sultan Qalawun Complex on El-Mu'izz Street and the funerary complex of Sultan Qaytbay in the Northern Cemetery. These projects stand as enduring testaments to the committee's commitment to the historical and cultural integrity of Egypt's architectural gems.

In 1936, responsibility for the Comité shifted from the Ministry of Awqaf to the Ministry of Education. In 1961, the Comité was formally dissolved, and its responsibilities were absorbed by the Permanent Committee for Islamic and Coptic Monuments of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization at the time, now known as the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l'Art Arabe held over 303 official meetings and commissioned over 919 technical reports during its lifetime. Its procedures and findings were meticulously documented in bulletins published by the IFAO. The comprehensive index compiled by Max Herz Pasha in 1914 remains an invaluable record of Egypt's artistic monuments, serving as a poignant reminder of the importance of heritage preservation.

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