CAIRO: THE CITY OF MINARETS
Cairo is nicknamed the ‘city of one thousand minarets’ for its preponderance of Islamic architecture. Its skyline stands as a backdrop to the epic tale of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. It has an artery of crowded, chaotic and melodramatic medieval alleyways falling in the shadow of 4,000 minarets. It adds a mystical silhouette to the urban composition. These poetic ornaments for centuries have accentuated Cairo’s individuality, because nowhere else in the world can this plethora of domes and minarets be found. The fortified city of Al-Qāhira or the Vanquisher, was built by the Fatimid Caliphate in the 10th century. They were a dynasty of Muslims who ruled over North Africa and parts of the Middle East. Under Fatimid rule, Cairo became the new cultural domain of the Muslim world, with trade routes extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. The ruling elite were distinguished by a refined, tolerant approach to politics. Their exemplary diplomacy succeeded in securing peaceful international relations with kingdoms as far away as China’s Song Dynasty.
Equally, and while Alexandria and Baghdad’s reputation rose as urban laboratories for new discoveries, the Caliph in Cairo wanted to leave a similarly indelible mark on his city. He built the Azhar Mosque and developed it into a religious education institution, dedicated to the pursuit of Islamic knowledge. In medieval Cairo, the pivot of public education became the mosque. It played an important social and scientific role in society. Education in theology, medicine, astrology and grammar took place every day of the week. These humble yet extravagant palaces of worship, were screened from the hustle and bustle of the city by tall bronze doors, encased in silver and gold. Students and worshipers passed through a quiet subdued courtyard, with a central fountain as the first step in their journey to purify the soul, and enrich the mind. A long extended aisle, shaded by a forest of tall columns, crowned by pointed keel-shaped arches offered the opportunity of a brief stop for contemplation.
[Paintings: Scenes From Old Cairo | Painter: David Roberts, Scottish (1796-1864)] ....