The History of Alexandria and its Culture during the Islamic Era
سالم، السيد عبد العزيز. تاريخ الإسكندرية و حضارتها في العصر الإسلامي. الإسکندریة: مؤسسة شباب الجامعة للطباعة و النشر، ١٩٨٢، الطبعة الثانية، ٦٥٢ص.

Salim, al-Sayyid ʻAbd al-ʻAziz. Tarikh al-Iskandariyyah wa-Hadaratuha fi al-ʻAsr al-Islami. Alexandria: Muʼassasat Shabab al-Jami‘ah lil-Tiba‘ah wa-al-Nashr, 1982, 2nd ed., 652pp.


The History of Alexandria and its Culture during the Islamic Era

تاريخ الإسكندرية و حضارتها في العصر الإسلامي

The history of Alexandria during the Islamic era has received relatively scant attention from historians when compared to its history during the Greek and Roman periods. According to the book’s introduction, this is what motivated ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Salim to use his book to shed light on this forgotten era in the city’s history. Research into Alexandria’s Islamic legacy has also been spurred by the loss of a large part of the town’s Islamic heritage, along with the discovery of sections of the town’s wall dating back to this period. 

The book is spread over two main sections. The first of these discusses Alexandria’s history since its founding in 332 BC until its last golden-age and the beginning of a period of decline in 1421 CE. The second section deals with Alexandria’s culture through a description of the town’s urban environment, including military, religious and civil edifices. Finally, the book concludes with a narrative of economic and intellectual life in the city.

While the book does provide a general overview of Alexandria’s long history, the study nevertheless focuses mostly on the Islamic era which it divides into several historical periods, beginning with the town’s foundation, then moving onto the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid and Ayyubid periods, and finishing with the town’s decline. This categorisation facilitates the reader’s comprehension of the time frame and the most important historical events. As for the second part of the book, its descriptive narrative is divided thematically according to the most important civilisational accomplishments that Alexandria has witnessed during the Islamic era, including the religious architecture of mosques and civil architecture of palaces, as well as that of private and public houses. The book’s language is also worth mentioning as it is characterised by its ease and clarity, making it accessible to the average reader. 

While the author has paid significant attention to the importance of Alexandria’s Islamic legacy, it is worth noting some of the shortcomings of his book, in particular its lack of illustrative pictures. These would have enriched the book and instilled a greater awareness of the town amongst readers. Despite this, the work has in general succeeded in drawing the reader’s attention to the urban richness of Alexandria’s Islamic heritage by providing a well-researched and comprehensive overview of the town’s history and urban culture.

Tariq Razzouq
Translated by Hugh Lovatt
Razzouq, Tariq. “English abstract of 'The History of Alexandria and its Culture during the Islamic Era'". Translated by Hugh Lovatt. In Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011, by Aptin Khanbaghi, 130. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
Muslim Civilisations Abstracts - The Aga Khan University
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