Friday, August 13, 2010

More on newly restored Museum of Islamic Art

Al Ahram Weekly (Nevine El-Aref)

A detailed overview the new museum, including coverage of the Hosni/Hawass visit, a background to its creation and an insight into what the restored museum offers to visitors.

A museum to showcase some of the splendid arts created by Islamic artists and craftsmen was first planned in 1869, even before the establishment of a committee of Arab antiquities dedicated to building a national collection of Islamic art. The Museum of Islamic Art eventually opened in 1881 in the arcades of the mosque of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim with an initial display of 111 objects gathered from mosques and mausoleums across Egypt.

The museum immediately proved popular, and new additions were acquired. Owing to the rapid increase in the size of the collection a new building was constructed in the courtyard of the mosque in 1883 to house what had now become a considerably enlarged museum. In 1899 the government began construction work on the present building, and in 1903 the Islamic Museum opened with a display of 3,154 objects originating from Egypt and other countries.

The museum's name had changed over the years, but in 1952 the museum trustees settled on the institution's present name, the Museum of Islamic Art, in recognition of the contributions of non- Arab Muslims. Since then the museum has become the main repository for the national collection of Islamic art, and, owing to new discoveries, purchases and donations, this now boasts some 100,000 objects.

Nevertheless, over the years the museum was neglected due to lack of funds and lack of cultural interest, and in 1999 preliminary work began to renovate the museum. In all the 100 years or so of its existence the museum had never once been renovated, except for an attempt to clean the institution's walls and renovate the displays in 1983. Attempts at a more comprehensive renovation were frustrated in part by the building's upper floor being occupied by a separate institution, the Dar Al-Kutub Al-Masreya (the Egyptian Library).

In 2003 the Ministry of Culture launched a comprehensive restoration project for the museum in an attempt to reinstate its original function and grandeur.

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