Brilliant works of art and architecture were created during the Fatimid period

Medallion
The medallion in the arch over the gateway of the Mosqueof Al-Aqmar in Cairo contains a circular area with an inscription repeating the name of Prophet Muhammad. The name of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, is at the centre. (Image: Jonathan Bloom)

There is no doubt that the artists of Egypt under the Fatimids were skilled to a degree that found no parallel in the handicrafts of Europe…. it is impossible to overlook the existence of an ancient skill in arts of all kinds in Egypt itself, and to ascribe much of the merits of the Mamluk work to the traditions of the Fatimids.”
Stanley Lane-Poole, The Art of the Saracens in Egypt,1886 *

Fatimid lanterns on display at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo (Image: Encyclopaedia Britannica Online)
Fatimid lanterns on display at the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo
(Image: Encyclopaedia Britannica Online)

In the year 909, the Fatimid Imam al-Mahdi was proclaimed as caliph in present-day Tunisia, founding Fatimid reign. In 969, the Caliph-Imam Al-Mu’izz conquered Egypt, founding the city of Cairo, which became the capital of the empire in 973.

Named after the Prophet’s daughter, the reign of the Fatimids Caliph-Imams, for almost two centuries, is often referred to as a ‘golden age’ in Ismaili history. The Fatimids placed a high value on intellectual and artistic activities, attracting talented people from all over the world and Cairo became a flourishing centre of scholarship, learning, and the arts. The creativity of the Fatimid period is expressed in monuments of astounding variety and beauty as well as the many exquisite objects made from a range of materials.

Aqmar_Mosque
The Mosque of al-Aqmar, built in 1125 during the reign of Caliph-Imam al-Mustansir. It is noted for its unusual decorative facade.

Fatimid art – particularly textiles, ceramics, carved rock crystal, and metalwork – has been admired for centuries. The items were initially taken to Europe by merchants and Crusaders and then preserved as relics in churches and private collections.

Many of the greatest Fatimid architectural achievements in palaces and mosques are known only by written descriptions. However, several surviving tombs, mosques, gates and walls, mainly in Cairo, retain original elements, although they have been extensively modified or rebuilt in later periods. Some of the notable existing examples of Fatimid architecture include the Great Mosque of Mahdiya,and the Al-Azhar Mosque, Al-Hakim Mosque, and Lulua Mosque of Cairo. A striking feature of Fatimid buildings in Cairo is the lavish decoration of the interior and exterior walls.

References:
*Jonathan M. Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious, Yale University Press in Association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2007
Sibylle Mazot, Islam: Art and Architecture. Edited by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius. Konemann. Cologne, 2000
Architecture of the Fatimid Period, Archnet

Research by Nimira Dewji

 


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