Fustat, founded as a military encampment by the armies of the Arab conquests in the seventh century, served as the center of a flourishing global network of trade that connected the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. After the Fatimid caliphate moved from modern-day Tunisia to Egypt in 969 and founded Cairo (al-Qahira) as its new capital city two miles northeast of Fustat, both cities continued to thrive. As the commercial center of the powerful Fatimid empire, Fustat’s craftsmen competed in the production of luxury products including lusterware, elaborate textiles and carved ivory objects, which were then carried by traders and diplomats through the Mediterranean and beyond. This workshop explores the relationships between the Fatimids and their subjects and rivals in Egypt and in the broader Islamic and Mediterranean worlds. Papers will examine the ideological bases and political practices of the Fatimid state, as well as the widely dispersed objects, motifs and techniques associated with the Fatimid caliphate that became the courtly style par excellence of the medieval Mediterranean.

Symposium Sponsored by the Trehan Research Fund for Islamic Art and Material Culture.

9:00 – 9:30 amBreakfast


Abigail Krasner Balbale
Assistant Professor, Bard Graduate Center


Paul Walker
Lecturer and Deputy Director for Academic Programs, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Chicago
“Cairo-Fustat as the Center of an Ideological Empire: The Fatimid Da‘wa in Competition with Its Detractors”


Marina Rustow
Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East and Professor of History, Princeton University
“The Fatimids and Laissez-Faire”

12:30 – 1:30 pm



Silvia Armando
Independent Scholar
“Before and after al-Qahira: Fatimid Ivories between Ifriqiya and Egypt”

3:00 – 3:15 pm

Coffee break


Jeremy Johns
Director, Khalili Research Center and Professor of the Art & Archaeology of the Islamic Mediterranean, Oxford University
“Fāṭimid Fusṭāt and Norman Palermo”


Avinoam Shalem
Riggio Professor of the History of the Arts of Islam, Columbia University