Celebrating the Islamic Museum

Nevine El-Aref, Friday 12 Nov 2010

The beat of a military band filled the evening air of Al-Manial Palace garden as Egypt celebrates the centenary of the Museum of Islamic Art

Following a fifteen-minute documentary of recent restoration works that have been completed at the MIA, the Culture Minister, Farouk Hosni spoke about development work carried out by the ministry to upgrade Egypt’s museums, and also future plans to build new ones, as well as the procedures taken to safeguard all museums and their priceless collections.

Zahi Hawass, Secretary-general of the SCA  talked on the refurbishment work carried out by the SCA in the last eight years on the MIA’s halls and displays. Hawass also distributed special awards to those who dedicated so much time to preserving the Islamic art treasures. To celebrate the centennial, Mrs Suzanne Mubarak  paid a visit  to the MIA where she toured the different halls admiring the 23, 000 pieces on display. She will saw how visitors to the MIA will now be able to roam around more easily in the spacious galleries show-casing the museum’s collection of ceramic, rare wooden, metals, textile and rock crystal artifacts from across the Islamic world.

The MIA was first opened in 1881, with an initial display of 111 objects gathered from mosques and mausoleums across Egypt, in the arcades of the mosque of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim Biamr Allah. But because of the rapid increase in the size of the collection, a new building was constructed in the courtyard of the mosque in 1883. In 1899, construction work began and the building in the Babul Khalq area, opened its door in 1903 with a collection of 3,154 objects. Since then, the museum has become the main home for the national collection of Islamic art, which has now over 100,000 objects. But negligence had taken its toll on the museum, which led to its closure in 2003 and the launch of a comprehensive restoration project.

 The master plan for the renovation work and the new exhibition design was drawn up French designer and museographer, Adrien Gardère in cooperation with the Islamic Department at the Louvre museum in Paris, which has advised on the reorganisation of the museum’s collections Iman R Abdulfattah, the coordinator of the Islamic museum project, explained that the renovation plan puts the museum’s main entrance on Port Said street, as it was originally, where visitors encounter an introductory gallery, which presents Islamic art and its locations in the world, in a mixed display made up of panels, maps and objects from the collection. An idea of the geography of historic Cairo and the early Islamic city of Fustat, the oldest Islamic settlement in Egypt, is also provided.

The museum is now divided into two large wings. The first is devoted to the chronological exhibition of Islamic artifacts through the Umayyad, Abbasid, Tulunid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamluk periods to the Ottoman era. Thematic displays are also included. The second wing displays materials from other countries, including calligraphy, manuscripts, ceramics, mosaics, textiles, grave stones, mashrabiyya, woodwork, metal and glass vessels, incense burners and caskets, pottery, metalwork and glass lamps dating from different periods in Islamic history. These objects will be displayed according to chronology, theme, provenance and material. A state-of-the art security and lighting system has also been installed, together with a fully-equipped restoration laboratory, a children’s museum and library. According to the International Committee of Museums (ICOM) the MIA meets international standards on a par with its counterparts in Europe and America.

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