Cities and Caliphs: On the Genesis of Arab Muslim Urbanism

Cities and Caliphs: On the Genesis of Arab Muslim Urbanism

Cities and Caliphs: On the Genesis of Arab Muslim Urbanism

Cities and Caliphs: On the Genesis of Arab Muslim Urbanism

Synopsis

The history of the Islamic world includes many unique cultural, religious, scientific, and architectural developments. Among these was the evolution of the Arab Muslim city, which occurred during the rapid expansion of the Muslim empire during the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. In this probing volume, Nezar AlSayyad examines the extraordinary characteristics of Islamic urbanism and the process by which cities were physically transformed by Islamic culture, religion, and its leaders.

Excerpt

My interest in Islamic cities dates to 1973. As a student of architecture at Cairo University and while studying the history of urban form, I was first exposed to the incredible heritage of the Islamic world. Although my initial reaction was that of fascination, I quickly realized that what I saw around me deserved more than passive appreciation. I continued to be interested in Muslim cities even after I left Egypt in 1979, and three years later I published my first serious work on the streets of Islamic Cairo. As an architect, my concern then was to understand the irregular form of the city and to extract a pattern or a rationale from what appeared to many as capricious disorder. And order there was, for I discovered that the urban fabric of Cairo was not a result of simple accidental accumulation of buildings, but rather a reflection of the Muslim builders' awareness of a variety of physical planning concepts that today we call urban design.

As my readings, travels, and jobs continued to take me to other parts of the Middle East, I became more convinced that Cairo was not an exception, and I decided to expand my research to include other Muslim cities. The current study is an attempt to summarize some of my more recent work. This time, however, my concerns are different. As an urban historian, I am now more interested in the process by which the cities of the Middle East became Islamic. This process, I believe, has not received its fair share of attention in contemporary discourse on urbanism.

One way in which the present work differs from earlier studies of Muslim cities is in its approach to sources. I have attempted to rely almost exclusively on original Arab chronicles. Arab historiography had always fascinated me. Reading the chronicles was not only a search for specific pieces of evidence, but also a spiritual exercise that relaxed my mind. I often allowed myself to get . . .

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