The Fatimid period (909-1171) was a period of substantial literary activities, thanks to the increasing availability of paper. Cairo, the capital of the Fatimid Empire, became a major centre of intellectual and artistic activities. However, many manuscripts produced during this period were lost or destroyed; others were hidden and are only recently coming to light.
One of the most important sources of Fatimid history is the works of the prolific Egyptian Taqi al-Din Ahmad b. Ali al-Maqrizi (1364-1442). Al-Maqrizi was the first historian to understand that the history of space – a city, building – can reveal as much as any text or document. He attempted to reconstruct the vanished Fatimid city by tracing its walls and streets and enumerating its mosques and palaces in his massive book, Exhortations and Instructions on the Districts and Antiquities, usually known as Khitat (Districts).
Al-Maqrizi also wrote a chronicle of Fatimid history from its origins to the end of the dynasty: Admonitions of the Orthodox, usually known as the Itti’az (Admonitions). One of the sources that al-Maqrizi repeatedly cites is the Book of Treasures and Curiosities, written in Arabic by an anonymous eyewitness to some of the events of the Fatimid period; this work describes the material and the visual world of the period. The manuscript was thought to have been lost but was discovered in the 1950s in the Gedik Ahmet Pasa Library at Afyonkarahsar in Turkey. It was subsequently translated into English and published.
The Khitat provides unique insights into the topographical facets of Cairo, a city founded by al-Mu‘izz in 969, describing the many spectacular structures established in Egypt. His other work, the Muqaffa, records invaluable biographical accounts of the prominent figures of Fatimid society.
Al-Maqrizi’s writings represent the most comprehensive account of the Fatimid era. His Itti‘az al-hunafa’ bi-akhbar al a’imma al-Fatimiyyin al-khulafa’ (Lessons for the Seekers of Truth in the History of the Fatimid Imams and Caliphs) focuses principally on the Fatimid age.
The Institute of Ismaili Studies has published the book, Towards a Shi‘i Mediterranean Empire, that focuses on the reign of the Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mu‘izz as discussed in the Itti‘az. The Institute has also published an Arabic critical edition of al-Maqrizi’s Itti‘az al-hunafa.
Jonathan. M. Bloom, Arts of the City Victorious: Islamic art and architecture in Fatimid North Africa and Egypt. Yale University Press. 2008
Dr. Shainool Jiwa, Towards a Shi‘i Mediterranean Empire: Fatimid Egypt and the Founding of Cairo. I.B. Taurus in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Research by Nimira Dewji