Egypt, and especially Cairo, experienced the era of economic and cultural prosperity during the Fatimids, as evidenced by works of art from that period. The most visible legacy of Fatimids was the transformation of Egypt (during the time of Islamization and economic exploitation) into a major center of Islamic culture. However, Fatimid art touched other cities of North Africa too. This paper will provide a brief overview of some of the most notable architectural works of Fatimids.
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Because Fatimids were Muslims, there was at least one mosque in each city. Among the most significant works is the Great Mosque at al Mahdiyya, which was built in 921 (Bloom 22). The building closely resembled the Great Mosque of Qayrawan, and city walls adjoined it from two sides (Bloom 23). Fatimid mosques did not feature minarets as conventional buildings of this type (Bloom 23).
However, they had portal entrances, and the mosque at al Mahdiyya use some of the concepts from Ribat of the city of Susa, which is one of the oldest Arab buildings in Tunisia (Bloom 23). The Fatimid caliphs competed with the rulers of the Abbasid and Byzantine empires and indulged in a luxurious palace building. However, their palaces and their most significant architectural achievements were only saved as written descriptions (Bloom 22). Several surviving tombs, mosques, gates, and walls, mainly in Cairo, retain the original elements, although, in subsequent periods, they were carefully modified or rebuilt. One of the examples of such buildings is Abu’l-Qasim’s palace.
Not much from Fatimid architecture has survived until the modern era. Many of the buildings lost the original look, and only the Great Mosque at al Mahdiyya, today, represents the Fatimid art as accurately as possible. However, it should be noted that Fatimid art played a significant role in the history of North Africa and Islamic culture even though the majority of their architectural works are only available through written descriptions.
Bloom, Jonathan M. “The Origins of Fatimid Art.” Muqarnas, vol. 3, 1985, pp. 20-38.