Showing posts with label Cairo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cairo. Show all posts

January 25, 2014

Damage to Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art: Why Does Art Always Take in on the Chin?

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO

As news of the explosion affecting Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art has spread and images of the destruction were replicated across social media sites few people or news agencies paused to mention what objects were actually inside one of Egypt’s spectacular museums or talk about the heart of Islam the collection represents. 

Started in 1881, the Museum of Islamic Art initially was housed within the arcades of the mosque of the Fatimid caliph Al-HakimBi-Amr Allah. Commencing with 111 objects, gathered from mausoleums and mosques throughout Egypt, the original collection has grown substantially over the last 130 years. 

Today the objects in the Cairo museum represent one of the most comprehensive collections of Islamic art in the world. With more than 103,000 artifacts housed in 24 halls, its collection celebrates every Islamic period in Egypt covering the Fatimids, the Mamluks, the Abbasids, the Ummayads, the Tulunids, the Ottomans, and the Ayyubids dynasties.

Photo Credit:
The museum’s glass collection alone counts 5,715 pieces in its inventory.  Some are very rare, others, like this glass vessel fragment, are more commonplace. Notwithstanding, each piece helps visitors and scholars embrace and understand the history of the region and its people.

Some of the glass enameled lamps in the museum come from the mosque of Sultan Hassan who ruled Egypt twice, the first time in 1347 when he was only 13 years old.  One of the most outstanding of these glass pieces is an eight-sided chandelier made up of three layers with a dome-shaped cap and detailed Islamic decorations imprinted on its glass.

Some of the museum’s glass comes from excavations undertaken at Al-Fusṭāṭ, on the east bank of the Nile River, south of modern Cairo.  As the first Muslim capital of Egypt, Al-Fusṭāṭ, was established by general ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ in AD 641 and was the location of the province’s first mosque, Jāmiʿ ʿAmr.

Glass vessels, phials and fragments excavated from the former capital and on display at the museum give the world an understanding of the chronology and origin of the Islamic glass industry as well as the history of Islam during the Umayyad and ʿAbbāsid caliphates and under succeeding dynasties.

Until the 9th century Islamic glass artisans used the Roman technique of making glass mixing calcium-rich sand and Natron, a salt substance used in Egypt to preserve mummies.  At the turn of the millennium, they opted to use plant ash for the soda component in their formula for glass making and experimented with colors, shapes, techniques, and surface decoration. 

From the piles of shattered glass, pieces of bricks and smashed cases seen in the first images released by Monica Hanna after the bombing it seems that the damage to the museum’s collection may be significant, though for now how significant has yet to be established with detailed clarity.  Talking heads on news sites triage the damage from horrifying to optimistic though without any formal inventory of which rooms were damaged and the objects purportedly on display in that room, it’s hard to know if the pulverized glass we see in initial photos comes from broken windows and collection storage cases or damaged artifacts. 

To rectify that gap in knowledge, museum staff and volunteers worked under difficult conditions and despite safety hazards from a partially collapsed roof before sealing the museum as per security directives.  Their goal: provide an initial assessment and to secure the collection to prevent further damage or possible theft.  Until a formal reporting is given, all we can do is hope that things remain calmer so that the Ministry of Antiquities can salvage as many of the museum's artifacts as possible.

February 19, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - ,,,, No comments

Dr. Joris Kila Reports on Feb. 1 Fire that Damaged the former American Embassy at the Historic Villa Casdagli in Cairo

Old interior picture of Villa Casdagli Hall
and Chapel. Photo by Jeremy Young.
This is a report from Dr. Joris Kila, Chairman of the International Cultural Resources Working Group (IMCuRWG) and adviser to the Austrian Committee of the Blue Shield and the Association of the National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS).

Dr. Peter Lacovara, a US Egyptologist working in Luxor, sent out an alarm early this month after vandals torched the former American Embassy, the Villa Casdagli, in Cairo on February 1. Alerted by the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, Corine Wegener, president of U.S. Blue Shield, contacted Dr. Kila who was spending a week in Cairo to report on the damage. The fire set on Friday night was not extinguished until early Saturday morning.  

Fire damaged Villa Casdagli on Feb. 9Photo by Dr. Joris Kila
Villa Casdagli on the Midan Simon Bolivar is very close to the Tahrir Square. It was reported that later several adolescents had set fire to the interior of the villa and were were chased away by casual passer-by’s.

According to Dr. Lacovara's message on 4 February 2013, the Cairo fire department needed the security forces to clear Tahrir Square of demonstrators who were doing everything possible to stop the fire department from putting out the fire at the villa. As of 4.30 in the afternoon on February 4, fire was still smoldering in the upper floors and smoke was coming out through the windows. Plunderers were ripping out anything of value inside the villa. Dr. Lacovara had asked the fire department to revisit the premises, but they refused to do so as there was no roaring fire apparent, and they didn’t want to venture out and possibly cause another violent demonstration. The firefighters believed they would need protection to undertake this job but security forces were disinclined to break the calm that prevailed in the area.

Villa Casdagli's 2nd floor (Photo by Dr. Kila)
One week after the fire on Saturday Feb. 9, Dr. Joris Kila and Tilly Mulder, an advocate for Blue Shield in Egypt, went to the Midan Simon Bolivar. Most of the antique fence and that gate to the Villa Casdagli had been stolen, leaving the building unprotected and still vulnerable to looters. Kila and Mulder, joined by Egyptian architectural researcher Ahmad Al-Bindari, went inside and saw the devastation. The Byzantine hall in which Saint George was so well depicted in both the celestial ceiling and the hall’s extraordinary cloister (chapel) is severely damaged. The monumental staircase is completely destroyed by fire. Marble ornaments and fireplaces are broken with pieces scattered around. Everywhere in the building, useable parts are stripped and stolen. The second floor was found completely burned and ravaged.

Hall and chapel on Feb. 9 (Photo by Dr. Kila)
The team tried to get more information about who created this destruction and looting but this was difficult. The Villa is close to the Tahrir Square and more or less in a sort of riot zone. There is no police so everything is left unguarded. Unconfirmed rumors blame criminal elements who are also kept responsible for looting and damaging the lobby of the nearby Intercontinental Hotel. The website states: "the solitary winner here is the villa's latest owner who will no doubt sell this prime real estate to Qatar or replace it with a lucrative high rise’’.

The fact that the Casdagli Villa was an official monument did not make much difference. Last year another Cairo monument, the luxuriously furnished villa of Kevork Ispenian on the Pyramids Road, was looted and destroyed despite being on Egypt’s heritage list.

Back ground of the Villa Casdagli
The Villa Casdagli is a listed historic monument. It is an irreplaceable architectural landmark with distinguished architecture, European-style paintings, mosaics and special inlays. It was built during the first decade of the 20th century by Austrian architect Edward Matasek (1867-1912). According to the Casdagli family,  Emanuel Casdagli [a British educated Levantine family of Georgian-Central Caucasia origins dealing in the lucrative Manchester trade] purchased the building in 1911 after the British High Commander Sir Eldon Gorst moved to a 'more stately home.' One of Villa Casdagli's pre World War II tenants was the American Embassy. The building is situated next to the plot where the current US embassy is located.

The Villa Casdagli later became a school for girls named after Sudanese revolutionary "Ali Abdelatif". In 2006, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), now the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA), placed the villa on Egypt's heritage list as an Islamic monument. In 2008, the SCA, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the American Research Centre in Cairo (ARCE), developed a comprehensive restoration project for the building. The project was funded by the US Department of State's Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation with a $5 million grant. After restoration the monument would become a new Institute of Museology, established by the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs to train curators on modern technology as used in world renowned museums. Courses would include museum presentation and exhibition design, restoration, museum studies and heritage management and the institute would offer MA and PhD programs.

On February 10 Dr. Kila and Ms. Mulder attended a meeting of the so-called ‘’Friends of Manial Palace Museum”. This NGO has good relations with the Antiquities Ministry (formerly Supreme Council of Antiquities) -- proof of this is that the meeting was held in the premises of this Ministry in Zamalek. During the meeting, it was understood that the ownership of the Villa Casdagli had been transferred from the Ministry of Education to the Antiquities Ministry which makes real-estate speculation less likely.

According to an article in Al Ahram online published 13 February and on the occasion of a symposium on the "Islamic view on cultural heritage", the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture" (IRCICA) issued the "International Declaration of Cairo", which protects Islamic as well as Pre-Islamic heritage. Among the participants were the Grand Mufti of Egypt, the Sheikh d'Al-Azhar and the Minister of Waqfs. The Grand Mufti announced that he is going to publish a book on short notice that collects all fatwas on the protection of heritage. The use of Fatwa’s to prevent abuse and destruction of Cultural Property which also happened in Iraq. In May 2003, just after the American invasion of Iraq had begun Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was asked by the archaeology inspector of Dhi Qar province in southern Iraq to announce a fatwa. The request was granted and Al-Sistani proclaimed that digging for antiquities is illegal; that both Islamic and pre-Islamic artefacts are part of Iraqi heritage; and that people with antiquities in their possession should return them to the museum in Baghdad or Nasiriya. Copies of the fatwa were distributed widely in the south, and published in the Iraqi press. As a result some of the looting stopped. Islamic leaders can have a major positive impact on protecting cultural heritage.


Email correspondence with Dr. Thomas Schuler Disaster Relief Task Force (DRTF) of ICOM, Cori Wegener USBS, Dr. Peter Lacovara.

Publications: Kila, Joris, “Can white men sing the blues? Cultural Property Protection in times of armed conflict deploying military experts,” in Laurie Rush
(ed.), Archaeology, Cultural Property and the Military, Woodbridge 2010, pp. 41–59

Kila, Joris. Heritage under Siege. Military Implementation of Cultural Property Protection following the 1954 (Heritage and Identity, 1). Leiden-Boston 2012.

Ahram online,Saturday, 16 February 2013

Looters smash jewel of Cairo’s colonial past | The Sunday Times Sara Hashash, Cairo Published: 10 February 2013

Al-Ahram Weekly On-line | Heritage | Back to school for museum staff, 19 - 25 May 2011, Issue No. 1048