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Al-Muizz li-Din Allah al-Fatimi Street (Egypt)

Al-Muizz li-Din Allah al-Fatimi Street (Egypt)

Al-Muizz li-Din Allah al-Fatimi Street is a major north-to-south street in the walled city of historic Cairo, Egypt. It is one of Cairo’s oldest streets as it dates back to the foundation of the city (not counting the earlier Fustat) by the Fatimid dynasty in the 10th century, under their fourth caliph, Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah (after whom the street is named). Historically, it was the most important artery of the city and was often referred to as the Qasaba (or Qasabah). It constituted the main axis of the city’s economic zones where its souqs (markets) were concentrated. The street’s prestige also attracted the construction of many monumental religious and charitable buildings commissioned by Egypt’s rulers and elites, making it a dense repository of historic Islamic architecture in Cairo. This is especially evident in the Bayn al-Qasrayn area, which is lined with some of the most important monuments of Islamic Cairo.

History

Historically, the street was referred to as the Qasaba (a word of variable usage in Arabic, but in this case referring to a central part of the city), and constituted the main urban axis of economic and religious life in Cairo.

It was laid out at the very beginning of Cairo’s foundation by the Fatimid dynasty. The Fatimids conquered Egypt in 969 CE with a North African Kutama army under the command of the general, Jawhar al-Siqilli. In 970, Jawhar was responsible for planning, founding, and constructing a new city to serve as the residence and center of power for the Fatimid Caliphs. The city was named al-Mu’izziyya al-Qaahirah, the “Victorious City of al-Mu’izz”, later simply called “al-Qahira”, which gave us the modern name of Cairo.[3]:80 The city was located northeast of Fustat, the existing capital and main city of Egypt. Jawhar organized the city so that two great palaces for the caliphs were at its center, while between them was an important plaza known as Bayn al-Qasrayn (“Between the Two Palaces”). The city’s main street connected its northern and southern gates and passed between the palaces via Bayn al-Qasrayn. In this period of the city’s history, however, Cairo was a restricted city accessible only to the caliph, the army, state officials, and other persons required for the palace-city’s functioning.

Al-Muizz street passing between the two wings of the Sultan al-Ghuri complex.

After the demise of the Fatimid regime in 1171 under Salah ad-Din (Saladin), the city was opened up to common people and underwent major transformations. Over the subsequent centuries, Cairo developed into a full-scale urban center which eventually eclipsed the earlier city of Fustat. The Ayyubid sultans and their Mamluk successors, who were Sunni Muslims eager to erase the influence of the Shi’a Muslim Fatimids, progressively demolished and replaced the Fatimid structures with their own buildings and institutions. The seat of power and residence of Egypt’s rulers also moved from here to the newly constructed Citadel to the south, begun by Salah ad-Din in 1176. The Qasaba avenue (al-Muizz street) went from a partly ceremonial axis to a major commercial street with shops and souqs (markets) establishing themselves along most of its length. The Khan al-Khalili commercial district developed on the Qasaba’s eastern side and, partly because there was no more room to expand along that street, stretched further east towards the Mosque/shrine of al-Hussein and the Mosque of al-Azhar.

Even with the removal of the royal residences, however, its symbolic importance endured and it remained one of the most prestigious sites to erect the mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and other monumental buildings commissioned by the sultans and the high elites of the regimes. During the Mamluk period in particular, the street filled up with major architectural monuments, many of which still stand today. New royally-sponsored buildings continued to be built even in the 19th century under Muhammad Ali Pasha and his successors.

In the 20th century, the construction of a major bypass road known as al-Azhar street, running from modern downtown Cairo in the west to al-Azhar and then later to the Salah Salem highway in the east, created a major interruption in the traditional path of al-Muizz street. Today, the old city is, to some extent, split into two by this major road cutting across the former urban fabric, passing between the Khan al-Khalili area and the 16th-century Sultan al-Ghuri complex.

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