Even though you won’t see the Museum of Islamic Art featured in all of our Cairo tour packages, it has earned the right to be in a very favorable position on any list of top Cairo tourism attractions. Not only is it by far and away the very best museum of Islamic art in Cairo, but it is also considered to be one of the very best Islamic art museums in the entire world.
This truly magnificent museum is home to more than 100,000 artifacts, but of these, only about 4,500 are on display at any one time, while the remaining artifacts are locked away in storage. One of the main things which set the Museum of Islamic Art apart from other similar museums is the fact that the artifacts at this museum come from all over the Islamic world, and they are representative of all periods of Islamic history.
The museum is pleasantly spacious and uncluttered, with the 4,500 displayed artifacts spread out between 25 individual halls. Visitors can expect to see incredible collections of plaster, metal, glass, crystal, and textile artifacts, most of which are very rare.
The museum is also home to a rare and truly remarkable collection of Islamic woodwork, and an extremely rare collection of manuscripts of the Qur’an, complete with strikingly beautiful calligraphy which was done using silver ink. In short, there really is just so much to see at the Museum of Islamic Art in Egypt’s capital city. Because all of our Egypt tour packages are customizable, a visit to the museum can be added to any one of our itineraries.
A Brief History of Cairo Museum of Islamic Art
While interest in Egyptian pharaonic art started to become established in Egypt sometime during the early nineteenth century, the same cannot be said of Islamic art. In fact, the Egyptian Department of Antiquities was established in 1858 to oversee the collection and preservation of Egyptian pharaonic art. By contrast, the Ministry of Endowments was only set up in 1880 to oversee the collection and preservation of Islamic art.
Even after the Ministry of Endowments was set up, the initial museum only occupied a very small section of the ruined Mosque of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim, and the collection consisted of no more than 111 architectural artifacts which were brought in from other monuments. That same year, orders were given by Khedive Tawfiq to set up a Committee of Arab Antiquities. This proved to be a catalyst, and soon the existing mosque had reached bursting point.
To accommodate the ever-increasing number of artifacts, a new double story building was erected in the courtyard of the ruined mosque. When this museum opened in 1884, the initial collection consisted of 900 artifacts, and there were only two employees: a curator and a doorkeeper.
By 1895, the collection had grown to more than 1,600 artifacts, and orders were subsequently given for the building of a new museum, the Museum of Islamic Art as we know it today.
Building work commenced in 1899, and in 1902 the Museum of Islamic Art opened its doors to the public. For the next 101 years, the museum would welcome visitors through its doors on a daily basis, and the collection would continue to grow. In 2003, the museum closed for renovation, a huge project which took 8 years to complete, and cost an estimated US$10 million.
In 2014, the Museum of Islamic Art was forced to close again due to damage that was caused by a bomb blast. While the nearby police station was actually the target of the bombing, the blast was severe enough to cause quite a lot of damage to the museum, while at the same time damaging and destroying numerous artifacts.
In 2017, the Museum of Islamic Art once again opened its doors to the public, and it is as popular today as it has ever been.
Even though this museum is not a standard fixture in our Cairo tour packages, we really do believe that the Museum of Islamic Art is more than worthy of a prominent place on any traveler’s list of must-see Cairo tourist attractions. It is conveniently located; it is beautifully laid out, and it is home to a spectacular collection of rare antiquities, many of which have been painstakingly sourced from several countries around the world.
There is, after all, a reason why the Museum of Islamic Art is universally recognized as being one of the very best such museums in the world.
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