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The Glories of Islamic Art Series Essay


Introduction and Background

The link between Islamic art and religion has been brought out clearly in the 3-part DVD series The Glories of Islamic Art. The movie attempts to expound how Islamic movements led major players such as Sinian in the field of art. In addition, it develops a memorable aesthetic heritage that has withstood the test of time and events.

The stunning film also depicts major milestones that have been achieved through the instrument of Islamic faith. Although faith and art have been interlinked throughout the various themes in the movie, it is profound to note that the two aspects are quite distinct to some extent.

Some of the groundbreaking themes explored in the 3-part DVD series include Ottomans of Istanbul, Sunni Mamluks of Cairo, Shi’ite Fatimids and Umayyads of Damascus. They all existed between the 9th and 16th centuries. The Citadel of Cairo was also an outstanding feature of Islamic art during this period of time.

A wide array of audience is capable of simulating the contents of the 3-part DVD series due to the compelling storytelling approach and unsurpassed beauty adopted throughout the film. In addition, Christianity, Judaism and Islam have been correlated in the movie by Akbar Ahmed in terms of shared values and trust.

From the movie, it is evident that between 1250 and 1517, both Syria and Egypt were ruled by the Mamluks before the Ottomans overpowered them due to military might (Yalman 96). Nonetheless, the Islamic society of Egypt was still dominated by the Mamluks even after being overthrown by the Ottomans.

Some historical records also indicate that their presence in Egypt was eminent as early as the 9th century. During their rule, they managed to secure Egypt and Syria by crashing down the influence of both the Mongols and Kingdoms of Outremer. By the onset of the middle Ages, the Mamluks had already converted Cairo into a pure city of Islamic influence.

In course of the same period of time, scholarship, architecture, craftsmanship and unlettered soldier-stateman’s rule flourished. It is against this backdrop that this paper takes an incisive look at the Islamic art that was developed by the Mamluks of Cairo with cross reference to the movie The Glories of Islamic Art.

Between 1250 and 1260, the kingdom of Ayyubid was outwitted in Syria and Egypt due to the dominance of Mamluk Sultanate. By this time, slave trade was the main source of revenue and manpower for the Ayyubid sultans. The governing class also incorporated some slaves who were deemed to be fit enough to lead. Hence, family succession was not the only political leadership system in place.

The Ayyubid strongholds that had been left around Mediterranean region were finally inherited by the Mamluks. Due to the strong influence of the latter, a very powerful Islamic empire was created. This empire embraced both Islamic art and religious fundamentalism in extending its dominance beyond Egypt.

For instance, major urban establishments such as Medina and Mecca were influenced by the Mamluks’ rule in Cairo, Egypt. It is also worth to mention that the Islamic world benefited a lot from the artistic work, cultural and economic activities that were centrally located in Cairo as the capital of Mamluk (Atil 102).

The different lines of dynasties during the Mamluk’s rule in Cairo necessitated the division of Mamluk’s history into two distinct eras. The first era lasted between 1250 and 1382 and was dominated by Bahri Mamluks.

This group of Mamluk had originated from the southern parts of Russia. The second historical era of the Mamluks was ruled by the Burji Mamluks. It lasted between 1382 and 1517. They are also believed to have originated from the Caucasian Circassian race.

The Islamic Art among the Bahri Mamluks

To begin with, it is vital to mention that the whole reign of Mamluk period was defined by the Islamic art and architecture that were developed by Bahri Mamluks. Moreover, the generous patronage by the Mamluks was mainly boosted by spices and silk since they were major items of exchange during the east-west trade.

Hence, intense Islamic art and architectural activities that developed in spite of the internal strife that was eminent during that time. The Ayyubids masterminded most of the artistic techniques based on Islamic architecture from various parts of the world (Atil 107).

The new form of Islamic art was also given higher momentum by refugees who were migrating from the west and east. Some of the specialized art activities that were embraced included textiles, woodwork, inlaid metal work, gilded and enameled glass.

Nonetheless, the Cairo Citadel can be considered as one of the most profound Islamic art and architecture ever constructed during the reign of Mamluk as depicted in the 3-part DVD series. It is located at the middle of Cairo City in Egypt at Mokattam Hill.

The choice of this location for the construction of this Islamic fortification was largely influenced by the strategic view of Cairo coupled with fresh breeze blowing from the Mediterranean Sea. It is currently being used as mosque and museum due to its pre-historic nature.

The Ayyubid ruler by the name Salah-al-Din fortified this Islamic art of Cairo before 1183 CE so that it could be safe from the attacks launched by Crusaders. The Islamic art also had a lot of significance to the religion bearing in mind that it signified Islamic presence and authority in Cairo. As a result, both Fustat and Cairo were surrounded by a wall after Fatimid Caliphate was defeated.

The wall was supposed to house the Citadel. It is also interesting to note that the Egyptian government used the Citadel of Cairo as its centre of administration until the nineteenth century.

The choice of this Islamic art was mainly attributed by its secure nature and effectiveness to offer protection against external aggression. According to the synopsis of the 3-part DVD series, the Citadel was used by the Egyptian government up to 1860s when the Abdin Palace was constructed and adopted as the new administrative centre by Khedive Ismail who was the then ruler of Egypt.

Even after the death of Saladin, the wall that he had commissioned some years back was still under construction. The wall was still being constructed in 1238 although by 1184, the Citadel had already been accomplished.

It was given more importance because it was an Islamic art that signified both the significance and dominance of that religion. According to the DVD series, it is definite that the Citadel was highly valued.

The Well of Joseph supplied the much needed plenty of water to the Citadel of Cairo. The well was about 280 feet in depth. It is still an outstanding feature at the Citadel. The inner parts of the well are wounded by 300 stairs in form of spiral constructions in order to facilitate easy access. This also explains why it has been referred to as the Well of the Spiral (Ades 225).

There were myriads of aqueducts positioned on the ground surface that assisted in supplying water to the Citadel. Adequate water supply to the Citadel was later improved during the reign of Nassir who channeled much of the water needed from the River Nile.

However, the addition of mosque to the Citadel was the major contribution of Nassir. The Ayyubid structure that was built by Nassir was later converted into a mosque. By 1335, the structure had been modified several times to serve various functions (Ades 225).

For instance, the southern enclosure of the structure was added by Nassir. Besides, the courtyard and harem comprised the residential area of the Citadel were all added during the reign of Nassir. However, the House of Gold and the Hall of Justice were constructed inside the Citadel by the Baybars even before Nassir made further modifications to the structure.

The 19th century events that surrounded the Citadel are quite fascinating. For example, its summit was perched with the 1848 Mosque of Muhammad Ali. The latter explains the reason why it is sometimes referred to as the Muhammad Ali Citadel. Although the Mosque of Muhammad Ali was named after his second son, the naming was largely meant to eliminate all the Mamluk’s dynasty symbols.

The significance of Muhammad Ali during his reign is an important feature that has adorned the Citadel. The present day Citadel still offers a vivid reminder of the Ottoman architecture that was extensively used to construct the Mosque of Muhammad Ali.

Needless to say, the 19th century period witnessed the mosque as the largest structure within the Citadel especially after some sections of the Mamluk palace were destroyed (Ades 225).

As a matter of fact, replacing the Mamluk palace with the mosque was a definite attempt to do away with the memories of past detested rulers. Moreover, the mosque of Muhammad Ali was adopted as the official mosque for the state, taking the place of the mosque of al-Nassir (Ades 225).

The Citadel also accommodates two other remarkable mosques. Since the Bahri Mamluk’s period, the Al-Nasir Muhammad Qala’un Mosque has been operational. Besides, the Mosque of Suleyman Pasha was also built inside the Citadel using the architectural standards borrowed from the Ottoman Empire.

Works Cited

Ades, Harry. A Traveller’s History of Egypt. Cairo: Arris Publishing Ltd, 2007. Print.

Atil, Esin. Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981. Print.

The Glories of Islamic Art. Ex. Dir. Akbar Ahmed. U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, Saban Center for Middle East Policy 2007. DVD.

Yalman, Suzan. “The Art of the Mamluk Period (1250–1517)”. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001. 85-103. Print.

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