By Yomna El-Saeed
Despite the claim that the Egyptian museum of Islamic arts is the largest museum of its kind in the world, it is relatively small. The museum was closed in 2003 for renovation and reopened in 2010. Eight years of hard work, and eight million dollars later, an extraordinary result emerged, which proved to be well worth the wait.
It is made up of one large floor, but has more than enough exhibits for two to three hours of interesting viewing. The museum was designed with an urbanely neat setting in mind. In addition to the very high quality exhibits on display, the design makes use of natural light to illuminate the displays. Therefore, it provides a much more comfortable experience than that of the Egyptian Museum. All the exhibits have Arabic and English labels and some of them also have French descriptions. The information in English is very informative, but some of the Arabic ones provide more data and details. However, the printing and typography used are of a high quality.
Once you enter the museum, your eyes will first meet with a large copy of the Holy Quran, which is claimed to contain the earliest recorded example of the use of vowels and consonants. It belongs to the Umayyad dynasty.
The right wing of the museum houses many artifacts, which are displayed according to their different Islamic periods; Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman dynasties.
It has a wide array of different intact pieces, ranging from wood panels, to gold dinars to ceramic dishes. There is beautiful jewelry, ivory and bone figurines, boxes, whole doors, mihrabs, and minbars from different mosques. Moreover, every section has its own large fountain and lanterns.
Some people find Islamic art repetitive and boring, but this museum proves otherwise. After browsing the museum for some time, one is astounded by the details of the artifacts. It becomes easy to distinguish the differences between the designs from the different dynasties and track the evolution of art through time.
The left wing of the museum is somehow different, and to me, seems even more interesting. In addition to Egyptian Islamic art, it holds both Persian and Turkish artifacts. The miscellaneous pieces of this section are classified according to different themes: medicine, science, calligraphy, textile, funerary arts, colors and lights.
Among the collection are surgical instruments, measuring cups to gauge medical liquids, scales, sand clocks, astrolabes, compasses for pointing out the direction of the Ka’ba to help Muslims pray, bottles for perfumes, Persian carpets, copies of the Quran from different countries, tombstones, funerary columns, and many more.
It is disappointing that photography is prohibited inside the museum since there are so many things that are worth documenting. I also expected to see a small gift shop by the museum that sells books and souvenirs, but was disappointed to find none. Given that photography is not allowed, it would have been great to be able to purchase postcards of the artifacts and souvenirs to remember the trip, and which could be a way for the museum to generate revenue. The museum has to be among the top ten places to see while visiting or staying in Cairo. It gives a uniquely poignant aesthetic experience.