Among the cities associated with the Islamic civilization, Cairo is perhaps the most representative culturally and certainly the richest architecturally. Founded in 634 at the strategic head of the Nile Delta, the city evolved from a military outpost to the seat of the ambitious and singular Fatimid caliphate between the 10th and 12th century.
Its most spectacular age, however, was the Mamluk period (1250-1517), which established it as the uncontested center of a resurgent Sunni Islam and produced a wealth of religious, palatial, and commemorative structures that synthesized the achievements of previous periods and symbolized the image of the city for centuries to come. After that, Cairo was reduced to an Ottoman provincial capital until the end of the eighteenth century.
Then, it witnessed a short and capricious renaissance under the independent-minded Muhammad 'Ali Pasha (1805-48) followed by a period of vacillation between conservatism and modernization that is still with us. The urban and architectural chaos was exacerbated by the late-twentieth-century acute problems of rapid expansion, population explosion, and underdevelopment. ( Nasser Rabbat, introduction to "Architecture of Cairo", course 4.615)
Yet, Cairo still shines as a cultural, political, and conomicaphy: live Foss, David economic center in its three spheres of influence: the Arab world, Africa, and the Islamic world. Moreover, many of its Islamic monuments (456 registered by the 1951 Survey of the Islamic Monuments of Cairo) still stand, although they remain largely unknown to the world's architectural community and their numbers are dwindling at an exceedingly alarming pace.are dwindling at an exceedingly alarming pace.
In January of 1999, ten students and two instructors traveled to Cairo to study ongoing projects in the preservation of historic buildings, and to take a survey of the existing monuments in various states of repair.
The investigation lasted just under two weeks and was directly related to two separate courses at MIT. For the students of Prof. Hasan-Uddin Khan, this was an extension of his class "Preservation and Adaptive Reuse in the Islamic World," for the students of Prof. Nasser Rabbat, this was a preamble to "Architecture of Cairo." The group was able to explore a number of preservation projects and meet with the people responsible for the work, as well as make their own assessments of various other monuments.