The Bazaar in the Islamic City: Design, Culture and History

By Phillips, Amanda | International Journal of Turkish Studies, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Bazaar in the Islamic City: Design, Culture and History


Phillips, Amanda, International Journal of Turkish Studies


MOHAMMAD GHARIPOUR, ed.,The Bazaar in the Islamic City: Design, Culture and History (Cairo: American University of Cairo Press, 2012). Pp. 320. £ 28.00 cloth.

This edited volume joins a host of similar books written and published during the last decade, all of which examine features of urban centers in Islamic world. In this case, the twelve chapters focus their attention on cities from the eastern Mediterranean to Afghanistan, with a brief detour south to the Yemen. The aim of the book, made clear in the introduction and by the following chapters, is to revivify the bazaar as a subject of historical study but more important, to highlight its recent fate in the wake of industrialization, the growth of international tourism, urban decline and renewal, and now, the 'digitization and virtualization' of commerce.

With two exceptions, each chapter focuses on a single bazaar or agglomerations of markets. Sometimes, an author might chose to concentrate on an earlier period, as well-such as the hans which characterize early modern Ottoman Bursa or industrial centers in nineteenth-century Kabul-but the majority of the chapters address the bazaar in its contemporary form, describing the recent events and transformations that have shaped their present states. The two other chapters introduce the volume, one describing the elements that define the Islamic city and the bazaar, and the other arguing that the souks of Damascus are archetypal and then setting out the historical, political, and cultural conditions that shape market spaces across some parts of the Islamic world.

The initial organizing principle of the volume relies implicitly on the concept of an Islamic City; this designation, as well as the features and pre-conditions it implies, is largely a creation of early twentieth-century European academics studying cities in greater Syria, the Maghreb, and Egypt. The term and the concept to which it refers are now predictably freighted. Recent and less-recent criticism has focused on its geographically selective but essentialist nature as well as its more problematic, universalist and ahistorical assumptions. As Nasser Rabbat points out in the second chapter ("Ideal-type and Urban History"), the use of Islamic City persists because contemporary architects and planners use it to describe older neighborhoods-placing them in opposition to more recent quarters, which were often built on western European plans.

In this volume, too, the bazaar is placed at the center of the traditional or imaginary Islamic city, as perhaps the most important of its defining features. But as Ali Modarres points out in chapter 11 ("Form and Function, about Yazd"), his bazaar finds elements in common with markets in medieval Europe as much as with those in the Iran or the greater Islamic world. And some assumptions about geographical and cultural boundaries are left only partially explored: although there are several color plates of markets in Cordoba, Samarkand, and Ahmedabad, as well as photos of Indonesia, Dubai, and China, the reader is not alerted to their significance in the accompanying text. It is unclear whether these examples act to reinforce or counteract ideas about Islamic urbanism, and market spaces. …

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