Egypt: The History of the Glass Industry During the Islamic Period

The History of The Glass Industry
During the Islamic Era

by Egyptian Government

The influence exerted on the Arabs by the civilizations of the countries they conquered; the Greek, Roman, and ancient Egyptian civilizations in Italy, Syria, Asia, Turkey, Egypt, and Spain were enormous. In Egypt, such influence manifested itself, among other things, in glass-making. A glass-making industry already flourished in Alexandria at the time Amr Bin Alas conquered Egypt. However, the Arabs made efforts to further develop this industry.

The History of The Glass Industry

They encouraged it in their new Egyptian capital, Fustat, near modern Cairo, and introduced it to other centers of the Islamic world, such as Damascus, Aleppo, and the cities of Andalusia. Islamic glass works of the period were distinguished by their elaborate ornamentation, including calligraphy of Quranic verses and other writings. Glided lanterns, pots and bottles were exported to the East as far away as China. One of the most terrific glass works of this period of Islamic history is the lantern presently exhibited at the Corning

Museum of Glass, Corning, N.Y., USA.

The History of The Glass Industry

Up to the Abbasid era (AD 750-868) the glass industry was dominated by Alexandria and Syrian, but the Abbasid Caliph Harun Al-Rashid valued enameled and gilded glass works. This became the finest gift that the Caliph could bestowed on his favorites. In Egypt during the Tulunid era (AD 868-905), special attention was given to stained glass surfaces as well as lanterns and vessels. Sultan Ahmed Bin Tulun (AD 868-883) renovated glass workshops in Alexandria. In connection with the restoration of Alexandria's lighthouse, his technicians developed glass mirrors, and he introduced official weights of glass sealed with his stamp.

Practical use:

Shamsiyyas and qamariyys are closely associated with Islamic architecture and are a good example of design that fulfils both aesthetic and practical ends. Windows themselves lighten loads carried by walls or arches, while admitting daylight. The glass set in them provides a building with defense against animal or insect intruders, controls the amount of light entering the place, and protects the interior against dust, wind, and weather throughout the year. Practical functions of shamsiyyas and qamariyyas are as important as the beauty they impart to a building, endowing it with a kind of spiritual peacefulness.

The History of The Glass Industry

Architecture in Egypt made use of stained glass in mosques, houses, palaces and khankawat (monastic complexes). Stained glass windows varied in their style, ornamentation, and color according to the kind of building and to the era of construction. Cairo abounds in buildings with stained glass windows of all periods from the ninth century to the twentieth. Among these are Ahmed Bin Tulun Mosque, the Tanbugha Al Maridany Mosque, the Palace of Beshtak, Khanqah of Shiaykhu, the Madrasah of Sultan Hassan, House of Zaynab Khatun, the Musafirkhanah Palace, the Rifa'i Mosque, and the Palace of Prince Mohammed Ali in


Technical Considerations:

The History of The Glass Industry

Architects, deciding where to place windows, had to take into consideration religious needs and architectural style and tradition, as well as technical requirements perhaps invisible to the non specialized eye. For example, the angle of the window's elevation above the interior floor had to be calculated according to the relation between the height of the bottom of the window and eye- level. If a window is eight meters or more above eye-level in a confined space, the area of glass and thus the amount of visible light may be reduced to almost nothing. If the window is set at eye level, however, the effect of colored glass, that is, the colored light coming through it, will be maximized, in all its beauty. In their creation of these windows, tinting sunlight coming into a building with myriad colors, artists had further to consider psychological, social and environmental factors. Decorative motifs used in mosques were dictated by religious considerations: In view of the traditional objection to depiction of human figures, artists used abstract geometrical motifs, floral motifs, or calligraphic rendering of Quranic verses or pious poetry. To these technical and practical considerations governing the design of colored glass windows, one should add th

economic factor, which dictated the use of locally available material.

The History of The Glass Industry

In modern Egyptian architecture stained glass has been used for exterior and interior decoration, set in stucco, lead and other materials. Variations on the motif of colored light are evident in the use of mosaic walls receiving light from outside through clear glass. In many recent public building, such as theaters, cinemas and offices, glass is coupled with steel. Transparent glass surfaces colored with thermal dyes has been used for sculpture or for interior decoration. Virtually every major building erected in the twentieth century has transparent or stained-glass panes in the form of windows, partitions, or fixed or moveable walls.

Examples of twentieth century stained glass could he found in the following buildings:

Al-Ahram Building opened in 1962, contains a panorama which is a reworking of traditional Islamic motifs

The History of The Glass Industry

with modem technological elements. The building's exterior is made of rayban glass. In the VIP Rest House at the Union of the Arab Republics Building in Mersa Matruh, opened in l975, plaster work and wood are inlaid with stained glass, and mosaic tiles in Islamic designs. Stained glass figures also on a large scale in the Ministry of Water Resources Building, constructed in 1991. Its main entrance and ground floor display partitions and doors in stained glass and etched glass set in lead. In Ismailia the dome of the VIP Rest House at the Mausoleum of the Unknown Soldier (1992) also makes use of stained glass set in lead in a dome 4.5m high with a diameter of 6m. Colored light overwhelms interior space, creating an extremely beautiful atmosphere. Stained glass figures picturesquely in the reception hall of the General Book Organization Building. Noteworthy is the portrait of President Hosni Mubarak made of transparent mosaics. In the Holy Quran hall, located near the Reception Desk colors and patterns are equally fascinating. The building also exhibits an Islamic style woodwork inlaid with copper made in 1993.

The History of The Glass Industry

A recently built mosque in Cairo Al-Nur Mosque in Abbassiyya, ( 1994 ) exhibits modern technology in glass making and designing. Its five domes, each 12m in diameter, are constructed in Islamic patterns of lead and ironwork in which the interstices are filled with stained glass. Modem technology has also been used in the panorama at the Egyptian Ministry of Education (1994).

In fact the use of glass has become common in most large new buildings in Egypt. Iron, and its alloys, has replaced other material formerly used for windows. In the new building of Qasr Al-Ayni Hospital (1995) a window unit of 60 square meter is made of steel with lead chocks to endure tremors and the stress of heat expansion. Stained glass figures in the Police Hospital Building (1995) in the exterior and interior.