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Mashrabieh (Oriel)

Mashrabieh (Oriel)
© BA Antiquities Museum/C. Gerigk

Registration Number(s)
BAAM Serial Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum Number 0939

Inv.Inventory
 (MIA) 512

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Islamic Antiquities

Mashrabieh (Oriel)

Category:
Architecture, building accessories, mashrabiehs (oriels)
Date:
Islamic Period (641-1517)
Provenance:
Upper Egypt, Cairo (House of Aisha Al-Beida)
Material(s):
Organic material, wood
Length:
154 cm;
Width:
121 cm
Hall:
Islamic Antiquities


Description

A rectangular mashrabiya pertaining to the  period executed through fine turnery (mashrabiya turnery).  It is divided into two parts.  The upper part shows two gazelles facing each other.  The craftsman 'burned' the background in order to show the design.  The lower part of the mashrabiya has been divided vertically into three sections:  The two sides are equal in width and are similarly decorated, whereas the middle part is much larger and contains a geometrical decoration in its centre, in the shape of a hanging lamp used in mosque illumination.  The decoration in the central panel is also different in colour to the rest of the mashrabiya and is delineated by a frame.

This piece shows the ability of the Muslim artist in combining the art of turnery with that of the use of mortise and tenon joints and coloration.  He also succeeded in combining geometrical and animal motifs in the one piece.

The Mashrabiya

The use of mashrabiyas vastly increased during the Abbasid Dynasty in Iraq, the Levant and Egypt, where it was used in palaces and buildings on a large scale.  It reached its height during the Ottoman period.  Mashrabiya had different names in Egypt, such as "mashraba" meaning the jug containing water.  It may have also derived its name from a particular wood known as "mosharrab" which is a good quality wood known for its strength and its ability to withstand the heat of the sun.  The third etymological probability is the word "mashrafiya" which refers to the overlooking of the inhabitants of the house over the street through this latticework.

Types of Mashrabiya

There are different types of mashrabiyas, some closed and some open.  The open mashrabiya is a type of balcony overlooking the street or the courtyard.  The wooden lattice was left open in order to allow air and light to seep through.  The closed mashrabiya was covered with glass, but windows behind the mashrabiya could be opened perpendicularly.

The Importance of the Mashrabiya

One of the more important features of Islamic architecture is the privacy principle, which is one of the reasons the mashrabiya became so prevalent in Islamic architecture.   It allows those inside to observe the goings-on in the street below without being seen by the passers-by or those in the mashrabiya opposite.  The decoration on the mashrabiya makes it hard for someone standing at a distance to see through it, and the coloured glass which was sometimes added to it made it even harder for those in the street to see through it.  This advantage allowed women to observe street life without being seen. 

Another advantage was that the mashrabiya offered shade without the need to totally close the window, which helped to ventilate the rooms and to alleviate the heat during the summer months.

The art of the mashrabiya is an economical one, as the turning of wood pieces helps in utilizing small pieces of wood that may otherwise not be used in other furniture-making.

The mashrabiya enjoys a wide range of motifs, from plant to geometrical designs to birds and animals or the name "Allah" and the "Basmala".


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • يحيي الوزيري. موسوعة عناصر العمارة الإسلامية. القاهرة: مكتبة مدبولي، 1999.
  • المشربيات والزجاج المعشق في العالم الإسلامي/ إعداد نزية طالب معروف؛ تقديم أكمل الدين إحسان أوغلي. إستانبول: مركز الأبحاث للتاريخ والفنون والثقافة الإسلامية، 2002.

 

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