The Egyptian coastal city Alexandria has become the home of the city’s latest project for cultural preservation, the Museum of Arabic Calligraphy.
As part of an inclusive renovation project for the Hussein Sobhy Museum of Fine Arts situated in Moharram Bey area, the new museum opened its gates 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.
In an official statement, Abo el-Maati explained: “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 wing.
Known in Arabic as khatt – meaning line, design, or construction – Arabic calligraphy is a form of art cherished across the Arabic speaking countries of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Despite it being language based, Arabic calligraphy is often associated with the Islamic culture and the Qur’an. This shows clearly in the frequent basing of calligraphy artwork on excerpts from the Islamic holy book.
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.
Nevertheless, early scripts of the Qur’an are considered to be some of the oldest references to early Arabic calligraphy and lettering as we know it today.
The script used for the early Qur’anic 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, remaining popular until the 13th century.
As time passed, Arabic calligraphy underwent many developments that were influenced differently by geographic presence and the time at which they were developed. Among the most influential dynasties in the development of Arabic calligraphy were the Abbasid Dynasty (758-1258 AD), the Safavic Dynasty (1502- 1736 AD) developed in Persia and the Ottoman Dynasty (1444-1923 AD).
Meanwhile, other examples of scripts influenced by the whereabouts of their development is the Maghribi script, developed in the western countries of North Africa during the Islamic Empire. Today, the two most commonly used scripts by everyday Arabic speakers are Naskh and Riq’ah.