Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. A historian and architect, his research interests include the history and historiography of Islamic architecture, urbanism, and cultures, Mamluk history, modern Arab history, contemporary Arab art, and post-colonial criticism.
Professor Rabbat has published several books and numerous scholarly articles. His most recent books are The Destruction of Cultural Heritage: From Napoléon to ISIS (2016), co-edited with Pamela Karimi, and Al- Naqd Iltizaman: Nazarat fi-l Tarikh wal ‘Ururba wal Thawra (Criticism as Commitment: Viewpoints on History, Arabism, and Revolution) (2015). He is currently completing an intellectual biography of the 15th century historian al-Maqrizi and a book on the “Dead Cities”, a unique and threatened late-antique site in Syria.
He has previously published: Mamluk History Through Architecture: Building, Culture, and Politics in Mamluk Egypt and Syria (2010); Thaqafat al-Bina’ wa-Bina’ al-Thaqafa (The Culture of Building and Building Culture) (2002); and The Citadel of Cairo: A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk Architecture (1995). He edited The Courtyard House between Cultural Reference and Universal Relevance (2010, 2nd edition 2016), co-edited Making Cairo Medieval (2005), and co-authored Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition (2001).
Professor Rabbat regularly contributes to a number of Arabic newspapers on political and cultural issues. He lectures extensively in the US and abroad, consults with international design firms on projects in the Islamic world, and maintains several websites focused on Islamic architecture and urbanism. He has recently become involved in the debate on reconstruction and heritage conservation in Syria. He has established a collaborative research project at MIT, named “Ethics of Intervention”; co-founded Syrians for Heritage (SIMAT), an association concerned with the preservation of Syria’s cultural heritage; and co-curated, with Filiz Çakır Phillip, the exhibition “Syria: A Living History” at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto in 2016-17.
Among the cities associated with the Islamic civilization, Cairo is perhaps the most representative culturally and certainly the richest architecturally. Founded in 634 at the strategic head of the Nile Delta, the city evolved from a military outpost to the seat of the ambitious and singular Fatimid caliphate between the 10th and 12th century. Its most spectacular age, however, was the Mamluk period (1250-1517) which established it as the uncontested center of a resurgent Sunni Islam and produced a wealth of religious, palatial, and commemorative structures that synthesized the achievements of previous periods and symbolized the image of the city for centuries to come. After that, Cairo was reduced to an Ottoman provincial capital until the end of the eighteenth century. Then it witnessed a short and capricious renascence under the independent-minded Muhammed 'Ali Pasha (1805-48) followed by a period of vacillation between conservatism and modernization that was exacerbated by the late-twentieth-century problems of population explosion and underdevelopmen
Yet, Cairo still shines as a cultural, political, and economic center in three spheres of influence: the Arab world, Africa, and the Islamic world. Moreover, many of its Islamic monuments (456 registered by the 1951 Survey of the Islamic Monuments of Cairo) still stand, although they remain largely unknown to the world's architectural community and their numbers are dwindling at an exceedingly alarming rate.
In this course we will recount the story of Cairo. We will review its urban and architectural developments form the initial settlement on the site to the twentieth century and interpret them in light of the cultural, political, and social history of the country, the region and the world. We will examine Cairene architectural types and urban patterns to see how they reflect various regional influences and relate to their counterparts in the wider Islamic and Mediterranean contexts.
Beginnings: History, Geography, and Religion
History and Geography
The Nile and the Site of Cairo
The Legacy of Ancient Egypt
Egypt on the Eve of Islam
Hellenism, Christianity, and the Copts
The coming of Islam
The Foundation of al-Fustat
The Mosque of `Amru ibn al-`As: the first mosque in Africa
The vocabulary of the mosque: the minaret, the mihrab and the minbar
Imperial Ambitions: Ibn Tulun and al-Ikhshid
The foundation of al-Qata'i`: The Mosque of Ibn Tulun
Buildings of the Ikhshidids
Behrens-Abouseif, 3-34, 47-57.
Encyclopedia of Islam, 2d Ed., vol. 4, article "Kahira," vol. 5, art. "Mihrab," and "Minbar."
Dickie, James. "Allah and Eternity: Mosques, Madrasas, and Tombs," In: ed. G. Michell, Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social
Age of the Caliphate: The Fatimids
The foundation of Cairo
Comparison with contemporary Islamic cities
Fatimid Mosques of Cairo: new traditions and old forms
The Azhar Mosque and the Institution of religious learning
The centrality of the mosque in a medieval Islamic urban setting
Mosques of al-Hakim, al-Aqmar, and al-Salih Tala'i`.
The Cult of Saints: mashhads and mausolea
Genealogy as a propaganda tool for the Fatimids
The evolving function of the dome
The appearance of the muqarnas: decorative purposes and symbolic meanings
The defenses of Cairo
The first walls of al-Mu`izz
The walls of Badr al-Jamali
The gates of Cairo and the question of regional influences
The Crusades, the fall of the Fatimids, and the rise of Salah al-Din
Briggs, pp. 63-75.
Rabbat, The Citadel of Cairo, pp. 1-17.
Rabbat, "Al-Azhar Mosque: An Architectural Chronicle of Cairo's History. "Muqarnas 13 (1996): 45-67.
Bloom, Jonathan. "The Mosque of al-Hakim in Cairo," Muqarnas 1 (1983) 15-36.
Behrens-Abouseif, "The Facade of the Aqmar Mosque in the Context of Fatimid Ceremonial," Muqarnas 9 (1992): 29-38.
Idem, "The Mosque of the Qarafa in Cairo," Muqarnas 4 (1987): 7-20.
Williams, Caroline. "The Cult of the `Alid Saints in the Fatimid Monuments of Cairo. Part1: The Mosque of al-Aqmar," Muqarnas 1 (1983): 37-52.
Idem, "The Cult of the `Alid Saints in the Fatimid Monuments of Cairo. Part 2: The Mausolea," Muqarnas 3 (1985) 39-60.
Sanders, Paula. Rituals, Politics and the City in Fatimid Cairo, N.Y., 1994. Pp. 39-67.
Rise to Prominence: Ayyubids and Bahri Mamluks
The relationship of the citadel to the city
The emerging importance of the citadel as the residence of the ruler
The Roda Citadel and the urban development of Cairo in the Ayyubid period
Ayyubid Architecture and the Sunni Revival
The Mausoleum of al-Imam al-Shafe`i
The introduction of the madrasa: The Madrasa of al-Salih Najm al-Din Ayyub
The political and social functions of the madrasa
The mausoleum of the ruler
The Bahri Mamluks: continuity and change
A brief introduction to the Mamluk system
The Mosque of al-Zahir Baybars and traditional forms
The Complex of Qalawun and the Syrian import
The Apogee of Medieval Cairo
The City under al-Nasir Muhammad
The charitable institutions of al-Nasir Muhammad's princes
The Waqf system
Mamluk Madrasas and Khanqahs and the problem of the Four-Iwan Plan
The royal madrasas on the main thoroughfare of Cairo
The Madrasas of Sultan Hasan
Residential and Palatial architecture
A brief survey of residential architecture up to the Mamluk period
Royal and princely palaces of the fourteenth century
The urban character of Mamluk architecture
A short film, Medieval Cairo by Nezar AlSayya
Behrens-Abouseif, pp. 35-44, 78-132.
Abu-Lughod, pp. 27-36.
Briggs, pp. 76-109, 145-64 (Domestic Architecture).
MacKenzie, Neil D. Ayyubid Cairo: A Topographical Study, Cairo, 1992.
Rabbat, The Citadel of Cairo, 283-95.
Irwin, Robert. The Middle East in the Middle Ages, The Early Mamluk Sultanate 1250-1382, (Carbondale, 1986).
Bylinski, Janusz. "Darb Ibn al-Baba. A Quarter in Mamluk Cairo in the Light of Waqf Documents", Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 31, (1994): 203-22.
Fernandes, Leonor. "The Foundation of Baybars al-Jashankir: Its Waqf, History, and Architecture," Muqarnas 4 (1987): 21-42.
Grabar, Oleg. "Reflections on Mamluk Art," Muqarnas 2 (1984): 1-12.
Humphreys, R. Stephen. "The Expressive Intent of the Mamluk Architecture in Cairo: a Preliminary Essay," Studia Islamica 35 (1972): 69-119.
Ibrahim, Laila A. "Residential Architecture in Mamluk Cairo," Muqarnas 2 (1984): 47-59.
Williams, John Alden. "Urbanization and Monument Construction in Mamluk Cairo," Muqarnas 2 (1984) 33-45.
Afterglow of Empire: Burji Mamluks and Ottomans
The mosques, madrasas, and mausolea of the Burji Sultan
Urban complex from Barquq to Khayer Bak
The growth of Cairo and the development of the Qarafas
The royal charitable complexes from Umm Anuk to Qaytbay
The Mamluk style
The development of the dome, the minaret, and the Qa`a under the Mamluks
The development of Mamluk decorative techniques and patterns
The coming of the Ottomans
The urban changes in Cairo from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries
Ottoman mosques in Cairo: wavering between the local and the official
Cairene Ottoman houses
The stabilization of a hybrid type
Comparison with houses of other Ottoman provinces
The legacy of the pre-modern city
The French Expedition and the Description de l'Egypt
Behrens-Abouseif, pp. 133-67.
Abu-Lughod, pp. 37-79.
Briggs, pp. 110-44.
Behrens-Abouseif, Doris. Azbakiyya and its Environs: From Azbak to Ismail (1476-1879). (Cairo, 1985).
Idem, "The `Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda Style in 18th century Cairo," Annales Islamologiques 26 (1992): 117-26.
Hanna, Nelly. An Urban History of Bulaq in the Mamluk and Ottoman Periods. (Cairo, 1983).
Kessler, Christel. The Carved Masonry Domes of Medieval Cairo. (Cairo, 1976).
Idem, "Funerary Architecture Within the City," Colloque International sur l'Histoire du Caire (27 Mars-5 Avril 1969). 257-67.
Campo, Juan Eduardo. The Other Sides of Paradise: Explorations into the Religious Meanings of Domestic Space in Islam. Columbia, S C, 1991. Pp. 74-94.
Gillispie, Charles C. and Michael Dewachter (eds), Monuments of Egypt: the Napoleonic Edition: the complete archaelogical plates from la Description de l'Egypte. Princeton, 1987. Pp.1-30.
Modernization and After: Muhammad 'Ali to the Present
The architectural and urban works of Muhammad Ali
The Mosque at the Citadel
The Westernization of the palatial architecture
The modernization of the city of Cairo
Orientalism and the Fascination of Egypt
Ethnographer-Painters and the romanticization of Cairo
The Comite de preservation des monuments du Caire and preservation
Cairene architecture in the late nineteenth century
Historicism and the Mamluk revival
The Mosque of al-Rifa`i
Other Orientalizing styles
The emergence of vernacular style in the 1940s
The works of Hasan Fathy, Ramses Wissa Wasef, and their students
Cairo's expansion and modernization
Population explosion and urban chaos
Problems of preservation and accommodation
The image of Cairo: past and present
Behrens-Abouseif, pp. 167-70.
Abu-Lughod, pp. 83-117.
Lane, Edward William. Cairo Fifty Years Ago. Edited by Stanley Lane-Poole. London, 1896.
Al-Asad, Mohammad, "The Mosque of Muhammad `Ali in Cairo," Muqarnas 9 (1992): 39-55.
Asfour, Khaled, "The Domestication of Knowledge: Cairo at the Turn of the Century," Muqarnas 10 (1993): 125-37.
Al-Asad, Mohammad, "The Mosque of al-Rifa`i in Cairo," Muqarnas 10 (1993): 108-24.
Raymond, Andre. "Cairo," in The Modern Middle East. A. Hourani, P.
Khoury & M. Wilson (eds.), Berkeley, 1993. Pp. 311-37.
Meinecke, Michael, ed. Islamic Cairo: Architectural Conservation and Urban Development of the Historic Centre. (AARP, June 1980) pp. 8-46.
Ilbert, Robert, and Mercedes Volait, "Neo-Arabic Renaissance in Egypt, 1870-1930," Mimar 13 (1984): 26-34.
Volait, Mercedes. L'architecture moderne en Egypte et la revue al-`Imara, Cairo, 1988.
`Ali Pasha Mubarak, al-Khitat al-Tawfiqiyya al-Jadida, Cairo: Dar al-Kutub, 1969.
Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, A Short History of Modern Egypt, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad `Ali, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Andre Raymond, Le Caire des Janissaires: L'apogee de la ville ottomane sous `Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda, Paris: CNRS Editions, 1995.
Andre Raymond, Le Caire, Paris: Fayard, 1993.
Andre Raymond, The Great Arab Cities in the 16th-18th Centuries, New York: New York University Press, 1984.
Arthur Rhone, L'Egypte a petites journees, Paris: 1910.
Carl F. Petry, The Civilian Elite of Cairo in the Later Middle Ages, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
Caroline Williams, Islamic Monuments in Cairo: A Practical Guide, Cairo: AUC Press, 1993.
Charles Coulston Gillispie and Michael Dewachter (eds), Monuments of Egypt: the Napoleonic Edition: the complete archaelogical plates from la Description de l'Egypte, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Christel Kessler, The Carved Masonry Domes of Medieval Cairo, Cairo: American University Press, 1976.
Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Azbakiyya and its Environs: From Azbak to Ismail (1476-1879), Cairo: IFAO, 1985.
Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Egypt's Adjustment to Ottoman Rule: Institutions, Waqf and Architecture in Cairo, 16th and 17th Centuries, Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1994.
Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Islamic Architecture of Cairo, An Introduction, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989.
Doris Behrens-Abouseif, The Minarets of Cairo, Cairo: AUC Press, 1985.
Edmond Pauty, Les palais et maisons d'epoque musulmane au Caire, Cairo: IFAO, 1932.
Edward William Lane, 1801-1876, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians Written in Egypt During the Years 1833-1835, London: East-West Publications, 1978.
Edward William Lane, Cairo Fifty Years Ago, ed. S. Lane-Poole, London: John Murray, 1896.
Edwige Lambert and Isabelle Vinatier, eds., Autrement Le Caire (Feb 1985).
Gaston Migeon, Le Caire, le Nil et Memphis, Paris: Librairie Renouard, 1928.
Gaston Wiet, Cairo: City of Art and Commerce, Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press, 1983.
Gaston Wiet, Mohammed Ali et les beaux-arts, Cairo: Dar al-Maaref, 1949.
Hassanein Rabie, The Financial System of Egypt A.H. 564-741 A.D. 1169-1341, London: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Henriette R.L. Devonshire, Rambles in Cairo, Cairo: R. Schindler, 1931.
Ira Lapidus, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.
Jacques Berque, Egypt: Imperialism & Revolution, ed. tr. Jean Stewart, London: Faber & Faber, 1972.
Jacques Revault, ed., Palais et maisons du Caire, I- epoque mamelouke, Paris: CNRS, 1982.
Janet Abu-Lughod, Cairo: 1001 Years of the City Victorious, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.
K.A.C. Creswell, Muslim Architecture of Egypt. 2vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Louis HautecOur and Gaston Wiet, Les mosquees du Caire, Paris: Librairie Ernest Leroux, 1932.
M. Georges Salmon, Etudes sur la topographie du Caire, la Kal`at al-Kabch et la Birkat al-Fil, Cairo: IFAO, 1902.
Mahmoud El-Gawhary, Ex-Royal Palaces in Egypt From Muhammad Aly to Farouk, Cairo: Dar al-Maaref, 1954.
Martin Briggs, Muhammadan Architecture in Egypt and Palestine, (New York: Capo, reprt 1974.
Max Herz, La mosquee du sultan Hassan au Caire, Cairo: Comite de conservation des monuments de l'art arabe, 1899.
Max Herz, La mosquee el-Rifai au Caire, Milan: H. Allegretti, 1912.
Max Van Berchem, Materiaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum, Memoires publies par les Membres de la Mission Archeologique Francaise au Caire. 19 (1-4). Paris: Librairie Leroux, 1894-1903.
Mercedes Volait, L'architecture moderne en Egypte et la revue al-`Imara (1939-1959), Cairo: CEDEJ, 1988.
Michael Meinecke, Die Mamlukische Architektur in Agypten und Syrien (648/1250 bis 923/1517), Gluckstadt: Verlag J. J. Augustin GMBH, 1992.
Muhammad M. Amin, Al-Awqaf wa-l-Hayyat al-Ijtima`iyya fi-Misr (The Waqfs and Social Life in Egypt 684-923 A.H./ 1250-1517 A.D.), Cairo: Dar al-Nahda al-`Arabiyya, 1980.
Nasser Rabbat, The Citadel of Cairo : A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk Architecture, Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1995.
Nelly Hanna, An Urban History of Bulaq in the Mamluk and Ottoman Periods, Le Caire: Institut francais d'archeologie orientale, 1983.
Nelly Hanna, Habiter au Caire, la maison moyenne et ses habitants aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siecles, Cairo: Institut francais d'archeologie orientale, 1991.
Panayiotis J. Vatikiotis, The History of Modern Egypt from Muhammad Ali to Mubarak, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Pascal-Xavier Coste, Architecture Arabe ou Monuments du Kaire mesures et dessines de 1818 a 1826, Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1839.
Robert Anderson and Ibrahim Fawzi (eds), Egypt Revealed: scenes from Napoleon's Description de l'Egypte, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1987.
Robert Hay, Illustrations of Cairo, London: Tilt and Bogue, 1840.
Robert Ilbert, Heliopolis, Le Caire, 1905-1922, genese d'une ville, Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1981.
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Sylvie Denoix, Decrire le Caire Fustat-Misr d'apres Ibn Duqmaq et Maqrizi: l'histoire d'un partie de la ville du Caire d'apres deux historiens egyptiens des XIVe-XVe siecles, Cairo: Institut francais d'archeologie orientale du Caire, 1992.
Tarek Sakr, Early Twentieth-Century Islamic Architecture in Cairo, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1992.
Timothy Mitchell, Colonizing Egypt, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
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