Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


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 Muhammad 'Ali Pasha (1805-48) followed by a period of vacillation between conservatism and modernization that is still with us. The urban and architectural chaos was exacerbated by the late-twentieth-century acute problems of rapid expansion, population explosion, and underdevelopment. Yet, Cairo still shines as a cultural, political, and economic center in its 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 pace.

In this course we will recount the story of Cairo. We will review its urban and architectural developments from 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. The course is open to both graduate and undergraduate students. A number of discussion sessions are scheduled throughout the course to further address the critical and paradigmatic architectural and urban issues. Students are encouraged to contribute to the structure and topics of the discussion sessions as part of their course requirements. Three short essays (7-10 pages each) will be assigned. Graduate students may substitute a research paper for one or more of the essays.