Arts & Culture

Egypt’s First Museum of Arabic Calligraphy to Open Today

Egypt’s First Museum of Arabic Calligraphy to Open Today

The work of a student of Arabic calligraphy, using bamboo pens (qalams) and brown ink, tracing over the teacher's work in black ink. Credit: Aieman Khimji/ Flickr
The work of a student of Arabic calligraphy, using bamboo pens (qalams) and brown ink, tracing over the teacher’s work in black ink. Credit: Aieman Khimji/ Flickr

Amid an atmosphere of anticipation, Egyptian coastal city Alexandria prepares itself for the inauguration of the city’s latest project for cultural preservation, the Museum of Arabic Calligraphy, due to be inaugurated on Saturday, al-Ahram reported.

As part of an inclusive renovation project for the Hussein Sobhy Museum of Fine Arts situated in Moharram Bey area, the new museum will open its gates tonight at seven in the evening in the presence of the Minister of Culture Abdel Wahed al-Nabawy, the Governor of Alexandria Hani el-Messiry and the Head of Fine Arts Sector Hamdy Abo el-Maati.

The Museum of Arabic Calligraphy, the latest addition to the Alexandria Museum of Fine Arts. Source: Archinos Architecture
The Museum of Arabic Calligraphy, the latest addition to the Alexandria Museum of Fine Arts. Source: Archinos Architecture

In an official statement, Abo el-Maati explained that “the museum is specialized in the art and aesthetics of Arabic calligraphy and contains a collection of Arabic manuscript masterpieces created by artists of our current and past times.”

Renowned for their wide experience in modern design, conservation projects and designing interpretative displays in national museums, Archinos Architecture, a Cairo based firm, was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture in 2009 to take the project under its wings.

Curtained in a glass wall bearing Islamic motifs and Arabic calligraphy, the museum façade radiates an entwined identity of modernity, and Islamic and Arabic culture.

History of Arabic Calligraphy

Source: Mohamed Zakariya, Calligrapher
Source: Mohamed Zakariya, Calligrapher

Known in Arabic as khatt –meaning line, design, or construction- Arabic calligraphy is a form of art cherished by letterers across Arabic speaking countries in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Despite it being language based, Arabic calligraphy is oftentimes associated to the Islamic culture and the Qur’an. This shows clearly in the frequent basing of calligraphy artwork on excerpts from the Islamic holy book, Qur’an.

Although the exact origins of the Arabic lettering are unclear, Canaanite and Aramic Nabataean inscriptions that date back to the 14th century BC have been discovered by archaeologists in the northern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, and are believed to link to the Arabic alphabets, or even be the early origins of Arabic lettering.

Comparison of the old scripts letters. Source: Wikipedia
Comparison of the old scripts letters. Source: Wikipedia

Nevertheless, early scripts of the Qur’an are considered as some of the oldest references to early Arabic calligraphy and lettering as we know it today. The script used for the early Qur’an writings is commonly known as Kufic scripts –named after the city of Kufa in Iraq where it first appeared- and was developed around the 7th century, and remained popular until the 13th century.

As time passed, Arabic calligraphy underwent many developments that were influenced differently by geographic presence and the time during which they were developed. Among the most influential dynasties in the development of Arabic calligraphy are the Abbasid Dynasty (758-1258 AD), the Safavic Dynasty (1502- 1736 AD) developed in Persia and the Ottoman Dynasty (1444-1923 AD).

The measurements of the Arabic letters showing similarity, according to Ibn ar-Rawandi, Rahat as-sudur. Source: source: Annemarie Schimmel
The measurements of the Arabic letters showing similarity, according to Ibn ar-Rawandi, Rahat as-sudur. Source: source: Annemarie Schimmel

Meanwhile, an example of other scripts that were influenced by the whereabouts of their development is the Maghribi script which was developed in the western countries of North Africa during the Islamic Empire.

Verses from the Holy Qur’an written in the Maghribi script. Source: Wikimedia
Verses from the Holy Qur’an written in the Maghribi script. Source: Wikimedia

Today, the two most commonly used scripts by everyday Arabic speakers are Naskh and Riq’ah.

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