Cairo in the Light of Nasir Khusraw’s Safarnama

By Hatim M. Mahamid

This statue of the Ismaili da’i and intellectual giant Pir Nasir Khusraw stands in his memory in Badakhshan.

Nasir Khusraw, the Ismaili Persian traveller, spent about three years and three months in Egypt (Safar 439 – Jumadi I 442/August 1047 – October 1050). He set out on his journey from Marw in the East in Rabi’ II 437/October 1045 and returned to Balkh in Khurasan in Jumadi II 444/October 1052 (see map).  Khusraw registered important observations or strange things he had heard about, sometimes in detail, according to his impressions of the phenomenon. Through Khusraw’s descriptions, one can notice his concern to mention the routes and of travel, the distances, the dangers and hardships on the way, the qualities of the different spheres of the cities and countries he visited. Through his accounts, Khusraw tried to lighten the description of what he observed thus enabling those who read or listen to his description gain a picture of his stories. It seems that he mostly wanted people in Persia to believe what he had described; therefore he often compared his observations with similar phenomena in the Eastern regions. [1]

Map of Nasir Khusraw's travels as described in his "Safarnama". Credit: Wikipedia.

This paper deals with Khusraw’s description of Cairo, the Fatimid capital. When talking about Cairo, I mean not only new Cairo (Fatimid Cairo), but also the old city (Misr/Fustat). Cairo served then as the heart of the Fatimid state and was the centre of its political, economic, administrative and religious life. Despite Khusraw’s short stay in Egypt, he left a rich account of the social and economic life there. Moreover, he left us with a clear picture of the city’s life and organisation at that period.

Khusraw’s account of Cairo tends to praise the city, emphasising its excellent qualities, sometimes seeming to use a high degree of exaggeration. This praise reveals Khusraw’s interest in the Fatimid capital, particularly since his visit was during the peak of Fatimid power, progress and expansion under the reign of Imam/Caliph al-Mustansir.

In his accounts, he mentions when he himself was a witness to the phenomena he had noted, and when he had the information second-hand. Although was a stranger in Egypt with no knowledge of the Arabic language, [2] one may assume that a three-year stay in Cairo was long enough for him to get to know the surroundings and record his observations accurately. Despite Khusraw’s insistence that he recorded what he himself saw, he says he was not responsible for the accuracy of what he heard and then recorded. [3]

Cairo: Structure and Social Life

Khusraw’s description provides a clear picture of Cairo’s structure and its social life during his visit including the differences between the two parts of Cairo: Fatimid Cairo (al-Qahira) and the old city (Misr). New Cairo had been established in a desert place, about one mile east of the Nile, to the north of Misr.

According to Khusraw’s account, Misr was located on a hill near the Nile. Across the Nile, there was al-Jiza, another part of Misr, and between them, an island, (al-Rawda), which divided the Nile into two branches. It may be noted that Fustat/Misr was the first Islamic town built in Egypt by the Muslim conqueror ‘Amr bin al-’As in 20/641. Since then, Misr had served the capital of Egypt. When the Abbasids defeated the Umayyads in 133/750, the Abbasid troops set up their camp north of Misr, which became a new town, al-‘Askar, connected to Misr. During the time of Ahmad ibn Tulun (d. 270/883), the Abbasid governor, a new city was established to the north of the previous one in 256/870 called al-Qata’i’. [4] The medieval historian Al-Muqaddasi says that no one could enter Fustat/Misr except by passing though Cairo from the north, because Cairo is enclosed by the area between the Nile River in the west and the mountains in the east. [5] The medieval historiographer Ibn Fadl Allah al-’Umari (d. 749/1348) explains that Fustat/Misr was built along the eastern bank of the Nile river, while Cairo was established on a low deserted place far from the mountain. [6]

According to Khusraw, the distance between new Cairo and Misr was less than a mile. Along this stretch there were orchards, and gardens flooded with water during the Nile floods. In the period of the Fatimid caliph/Imam al-Zahir, a canal was established to serve new Cairo. [7] He added that the two cities were connected with each other by buildings and orchards. [8]

Khusraw mentioned ten quarters in Cairo: Barjawan, Zuwayla, al-Judariyya, al-‘Umara’, al-Dayalamiya, al-Rum, al-Baqiliyya, Qasr al-Shawk, ‘Abid al-Shira’ and al-Masamida. [9] These quarters were related to the different ethnic groups making up the Fatimid troops who either accompanied the Fatimid commander Jawhar al-Siqilli during the conquest of Egypt under the reign of Imam al-Muizz or were related to renowned Fatimid officials. Jawhar’s troops comprised a hard core of professionals consisting of Arabs, Saqaliba, Rumi, Blacks and Berber tribes, of which the Kutama contingent was the largest. The other major Berber groups were the Masamida, Batilis and Barqiyya. Even the Blacks who were brought by merchants from the Zuwayla tribe in North Africa were related to the Zuwayla. All of these groups had acquired living quarters in Cairo. [10]

Khusraw gave these units in detail, and estimated their numbers at 215,000 troops, which indicates a high count for Cairo’s population. [11]

The Imam’s palace was in the middle of Cairo. [12] Khusraw gave us a clear picture of its exterior and interior. He estimated that the area that the palace occupied was the same as the city of Mayafariqin. When talking of the people that inhabited the Fatimid palace, Nasir Khusraw had to depend on others. He says that he was told that the palace contained twelve thousand hired servants, in addition to an unknown number of women and slave girls. His sources say that the palace contained about thirty thousand people. [13] What is significant here is that the palace at the time of Khusraw’s visit was surrounded by an open space, so that the palace was very large, while the ground around it was open. Inside the city, he says, there were many orchards with the most beautiful gardens between the palaces.

While describing Fatimid Cairo as a spacious city, Khusraw described Misr as a packed and crowded place. Cairo’s houses were very beautiful, clean and magnificent, so that one would think they were made of jewels and not of plaster, tile and stone. The houses were kept separated from each other, so that no one’s trees grew against another’s walls. Therefore, when someone needed to restore his house or to add on to his building, he could do so without disturbing his neighbours.

Misr on the other hand was a dense city. Its streets were crowded and the houses were linked to each other. Some buildings had fourteen floors and others seven, while in Cairo most of the buildings were five or six storeys tall. To emphasise the density of Misr, Khusraw notes that there were bazaars and lanes lit with lamps all the time because no natural light ever fell on the ground, where people walked. [14] Several accounts agree with Khusraw’s description. Al-Istakhri, Ibn Hawqal and al-Muqaddasi draw quite a similar picture of Misr, and talk of the height of buildings and number of floors. [15] Al-Umari explains that both Cairo and Fustat had tall buildings in addition to large and tall palaces. Each floor had beautiful apartments with all the required facilities. [16]

Because of the high density of population, the Fatimid state took care in organising the administration in these districts, through the post of muhtasib (the market administrator), which was a high-ranking position in Cairo and Misr. He was authorized to keep the markets and the social life of the city, walking about in the markets. He was based at the main congregational mosques of Cairo and of Misr[17]

It can be seen from Khusraw’s account that many of the shops and houses in Cairo were owned by the caliph/imam, referred to as the sultan. One can imagine the measure of this source of income for the sultan’s treasury. And this great treasury allowed the Fatimids to live in luxury with glorious ceremonial. [18] Khusraw mentioned that there were no less than twenty thousand shops in Cairo, all of which belonged to the sultan, many of which were rented out for as much as ten dinars a month, and for not less than two dinars. He added that the Imam owned eight thousand houses (buildings), with the rent collected monthly. [19] These accounts do not appear to be surprising when checked against other medieval sources.

Since the Tulunid era (254-292/868-905), Egypt had been an important centre for local and regional trade [20] and this continued during the Fatimid era where Egypt maintained good relations between the East and West.

As a result of the activities of merchants in Fatimid Egypt, commercial centres like caravanserais were established and developed in the major cities especially in Cairo and Misr. These centres were known under different titles related to their owners, ethnic groups and communities and specialised goods, such as khan, funduq, dar’, qaysariyya, wakala, suq, suwayqa and others. [21] In Fatimid Misr, for example, there were suq al-Maghariba, suq al-Barbar, suq al-‘Iraqiyyin, suq al-Qanadil, al-Khabbazin al-Warraqin and many others. [22]

When Nasir Khusraw mentioned the main mosques (jami) of Cairo and Misr he may have become confused. He did not give details regarding those mosques, but he mentioned four cathedral mosques in Cairo for Friday prayers; al-Azhar, al-Nur, al-Hakim and al-Mu‘izz. In Misr, he says there were seven cathedral mosques, but he does not give details of their names. [23] However, in another place, he mentions that there are fifteen mosques like these in both Cairo and Misr. Therefore, Khusraw must have added the mosques of Ibn Tulun, al-Rawda and al-Jiza, which are referred to in different places in his accounts.

As is known, Imam al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (d. 411/1021) established four cathedral mosques during his reign. One was named after him, al-Hakim or al-Anwar. So, one can suppose that Khusraw was confused between the two names al-Nur and al-Anwar (or al-Hakim). It is the same thing regarding the mosque of al-Mu’izz. It is noted that Khusraw did not give any details of the role of the large mosques, like al-Azhar and al-Hakim that served the Ismaili da‘wa. He talked about the mosque of ‘Amr in Misr and its functions, although it served as the centre of Sunnism during the Fatimid period. [24]

Khusraw’s descriptions of both Cairo and Misr show that Cairo served a central role in the administrative life of the Fatimids in addition to its importance for concentrating the Fatimid troops in their quarters. This gave it a unique quality as a strategic capital city. On the other hand Misr seemed, in Khusraw’s eyes, to be as a centre of trading and of the economic life of Egypt through its markets and their links with other centres throughout Egypt.

The Bazaars and Shopping Centres

Trade in Egypt in general and in Cairo in particular, prompted Khusraw to proclaim the excellence of this sphere of life. That appears from his description of the bazaars and their crowds, especially Suq al-Qanadil in Misr, in which he says every kind of raw good from all over the world could be found. Such a bazaar, he says, is not found anywhere else. [25]

When comparing Khusraw’ s description with other accounts, there is found to be a general agreement. Before Khusraw, Ibn Hawqal and al-Muqaddisi had visited Fatimid Egypt during the late 10th century and mentioned the lively movement of trade. [26] Khusraw says that there were about 200 caravanserais, which served as shopping centres in Misr; one of them called Dar al-Wazir [27] was connected to Ya’qub ibn Killis the first Fatimid vizier. It specialised in producing silk goods (qasab) and had skilled workers.

The location of Cairo was important because it made the city a crossroads for trade and it was a point for goods from different regions of Egypt and from abroad, by both caravan and boat. Khusraw described the easiness of trading in Misr, where the ships were capable of carrying commodities up to gates of the shops. This description agrees with the account of al-Muqaddasi who was surprised of the many boats on Fustat’s shoreline. [28] In Khusraw’s account the means of transportation within the city are described as well. There were 52,000 camels in Cairo and  50,000 saddled donkeys in Misr. They were used for carrying people, transferring goods and water. [29] Outside Cairo, ships were used on the Nile as well as caravans of camels to transport between ‘Idhab on the Red Sea and Aswan on the Nile in Upper Egypt.

Because of the importance of trading for the ruling class, there were good relations between them and the merchant class. Generally, traders and wealthy merchants enjoyed special treatment on the part of Fatimid rulers. It appears from Khusraw’s account that traders were invited to take part in the official ceremonies and festival with the caliph, both inside and outside the palace. As a result of this treatment, some renowned traders, even if they were foreigners, attained a considerable amount of wealth; others achieved high posts in the Fatimid court and administration. Abu Talib al-’Ajami al-Qazwini (d. 415/1024) and his son (al-Sharifan al-‘Ajamiyyan) were very rich merchants in Egypt, who held high posts in the Fatimid state. The father of Abu Talib was responsible for the Dar al-Sina’a and intervened in the Fatimid policy. He even made his own decisions without consulting the vizier. Abu Talib was one of only four high-ranking men who were authorised to enter the palace and meet the Imam privately. [30]

During the reign of the caliph/Imam al-Mustansir, a family of Jewish traders held high positions in the Fatimid administration. Different medieval sources agree with Khusraw’s version of this story. The father, Abu Sa’d al-Tustari was the manager of the office (diwan) of the caliph’s mother (al-sayyida al-walida) and was known by the title of vizier (wazir al-sayyida al-walida). Abu Sa’d’s son was appointed supervisor in an administrative office, while a brother of Abu Sa’d served as manager of the caliph’s special treasury (khizanat al-khass). [31]

Security, Safety and Honesty in Fatimid Cairo

Traders felt secure under Imam al-Mustansir during the time of Khusraw’s visit. The Fatimids tried to ensure that trade was active and the goods of merchants were safe. So, no one feared the sultan’s agents, and traders could be sure that the sultan would not be unjust nor have designs on anyone’s property. This treatment encouraged traders from different countries, not just from Egypt, to increase their trading there. As compared to other periods the time of Khusraw’s visit in Egypt was quite secure. It is not unusual to notice in Khusraw’s accounts positive remarks about security and safety in Egypt, which encouraged trade. Khusraw claimed that he never saw such security, ease and comfort anywhere. [32]

This state of security and welfare, according to Khusraw, led the Egyptians to be honest in their trading, and even drapers, money-changers and jewellers did not lock their shops and yet no one dared to steal anything. The increase in trade, in the light of such security, reflected well on the social life of the Egyptians in general and the upper class in particular. Khusraw noticed that the people of Misr were extremely wealthy and he said that the personal wealth of some Egyptians was beyond description and that he could discover no end or limit to their wealth. [33]

The tolerance and benevolence of the caliph al-Mustansir encouraged people to participate freely in Fatimid ceremonies and other festivals and events. Khusraw took the opportunity to take part in some of these celebrations, which were described in sensational terms, such as the celebrations for the opening the canal (fath al-khalij), a celebration for the birth of the sultan’s son (439/1047) and the custom of the sultan’s banquet on one of the two great holidays. [34]

The  Conduct of the Sultan (Imam) and His Treatment of Refugees

Khusraw was amazed by the sultan’s conduct, which led to the conclusion that there was a degree of security and stability under his rule (Imam al-Mustansir). Khusraw says:

‘What a happy citizenry and a just ruler to have such conditions. Taxes were collected and sent from the provinces to the central treasury, and the army’s pay disbursed by the sultan, without forcing any governor or peasant to pay at the army’s demand. [35] What wealth must there be for the rulers not to oppress or exploit anyone?’

Thus, relations between the sultan and the citizens were based on trust and loyalty. This made the Imam take care of his subjects in times of economic crisis and poor harvests. And people were not afraid that the sultan would exploit them. [36]

Hospitality and good treatment characterised the caliph’s treatment, not only of local citizens, but also of foreigners. Khusraw mentions that there were military commanders from all over the world: The Maghreb, the Yemen, Byzantium, the land of the Slav (Saqaliba), Nubia and Abyssinia. They included the sons of the ruler of Daylam, the sons of Georgian kings (al-Karaj), the sons of Daylami kings and sons of the Khaqan of Turkistan. [37] These commanders and high-ranking people would have been attracted to Egypt by the sultan’s conduct or their curiosity to learn about the Fatimids and their doctrine.

References by al-Qalqashandi and other historians regarding the caliph’s hospitality towards stranger support Khusraw’s accounts. Al-Qalqashandi referred to Fatimid conduct and their policy of attracting followers from different regions showing them with hospitality, even their opponents. [38] Those amirs and notable strangers had a separate quarter in Cairo called Harat al-’Umara’, which was part of the Daylami quarter. [39] Khusraw mentions al-’Umara as a separate quarter within the other quarters. [40]

More noticeable is the case Khusraw mentions about the Sultan’s conduct towards immigrants from the Hejaz, who came to Egypt in 439-440/1047-1048, because of the famine and resultant misery in their country. About 35,000 refugees fleeing received clothing and pensions from the sultan for a period of twelve months. Even in times of crisis, the sultan kept sending pay, support and stipends to the amirs of Mecca and Medina, and for the servants of the holy places, besides sending the covering (al-kiswa) for the Ka’ba. [41]

Agriculture and Manufacture, the Annual Grand Opening of the Canal and the Imam’s Features

Agriculture in Egypt depended on the Nile and this made economic life there vary between periods of development and decline, according to the level of the Nile and the floods. Whoever follows the history of Egypt in general and that of the Fatimid period in particular, will notice periods of economic decline, accompanied by political crisis, as referred to above for al-Hakim’s reign (395/1005), and that of his successor, al-Zahir (414-415/1023-1024), and the Great Crisis (al-shidda al-‘uzma 457-465/1065-1072), during Imam al-Mustansir’s reign after Khusraw’s visit. [42]

Such phenomena of development and decline were quickly reflected in the social and political life of Egypt. The period which Khusraw spent in Egypt (1047-1050) seems have been one of wealth and development and his accounts are regarded as witness and testimonial to different aspects of life there.

Khusraw took pains to say whether his remarks were based on what he himself witnessed or what somebody else told him. The opening of the canal (khalij), for example, he described in detail because he was an eyewitness. He even tended not to mention everything he saw, because if he did so, it would take too long.

Because of its importance in determining the prosperity Egypt would experience during the following year, the Nilometer shown as a lithograph in the above illustration was a departure point of the greatest of Cairo's celebrations throughout the medieval period. This was the Fath al-Khalij, the opening of the canal. Image:

Khusraw begins his description of the opening the canal by talking about the place, date, causes and the importance of this event. He says that this day is the greatest festival in Egypt, that they began preparing for the celebration three days before. Then he describes the mount (rukub) of the Imam/Caliph al-Mustansir and the stages of his approach up until the moment when he proceeds to the head of the canal holding a spear, with which he beat the dam as a signal for opening it.

Khusraw also included in his account much additional information, such as a description of the large pavilion of cloth of gold, the number of troops with all the regiments (215,000 soldiers), the famous people and officials who accompanied the caliph as he rode. Khusraw added that the entire population of Cairo and Misr/Fustat went out to witness the opening of the canal with the different sorts of wonderful games. [43]

All the medieval sources agree with Khusraw’s account. Some small differences appear in great or less details, not in authenticity. Medirval historians such as Ibn Muyassar, Ibn al-Ma’mun, al-Qalqashandi, al-Maqrizi and others, for example, give name of the great tent of the caliph by the name as al-Qatul and talk of its many beautiful ornaments, [44] while Khusraw says that it was made of Byzantine brocade threaded with gold. Khusraw’s account takes care to mention the components of the different regiments of the Fatimid troops accompanying the caliph with their numbers, but the other sources only mention the important military phenomenon without giving detailed numbers as Khusraw did. [45] Khusraw, unlike other writers, did not describe the caliph’s return to the palace after the celebration.

What is more significant in Khusraw’s description is that he gave us a clear picture of the caliph’s features and appearance. He says that the Imam al-Mustansir bi-Allah was a well-built, clean-shaven youth with cropped hair. [46]

Green Areas, Fruits and Vegetables

The Fatimids took care of agriculture, not for food only, but also for manufacturing uses, and created green areas for walking and holidays. Khusraw was amazed at the variety of trees, fruits and vegetables he saw all at the same time, although they were suited to different seasons and climates. Strangely enough, Khusraw saw that Egyptians grew different kinds of plants and trees in vases On the roofs of their houses, which made them look like gardens. [47]


Cairo and Misr benefited from the crafts of other Egyptian cities. The ruling class in the capital consumed a great deal of these products, such as the high quality cloth (buqlamun) from Tinnis and Dumyat, and woollen goods from Asyut, while many of them were exported abroad [48]

Ibn Hawqal, before Khusraw, was fascinated by Tinnis and Dumyat saying that they have speciality of manufacturing unique and rare kinds of coloured cloths that have no parallel anywhere in the world for quality, beauty and value. [49] Al-Maqrizi, for example, says that there were 3,000 artisans in the khizanat al-bunud, close to the palace in Cairo. These men were experts in different kinds of art. It is important to mention here that Khusraw gave a positive description of the situation of the artisan class who worked of their own volition and were not, as in some other countries, forced to work for the ruling class. [50]

One can conclude that Khusraw was fascinated by the strange and rare kinds of products in Egypt. Thus, there is full agreement with other historians, such as Ibn Hawqal, that the price of one load of goods from Tinnis to be sent to Iraq was twenty to thirty thousand dinars. [51] Khusraw also mentions a story he heard about a king of Persia who sent his emissaries to Tinnis with twenty thousand dinars for purchasing a load of the buqlamun manufactured there. [52]

Safarnama’s Veracity

The magnificent picture that Khusraw presents describes only the specific period of his stay in Egypt. Compared with other Fatimid sources, Khusraw’s accounts of Cairo seem to be quite close to reality, although they sometimes take on a certain emphasis and exaggeration when describing a given phenomenon.

Two main points support the veracity of his accounts: Firstly, it is known that the period which Khusraw spent in Cairo was characterised by political and economical stability. Secondly, Khusraw was careful to distinguish between what he had seen and what he had heard. By scanning Fatimid sources and comparing them with Khusraw’s record, one can see the whole picture and notice that Khusraw concentrated on the time of his stay in Egypt, which seems to have been a secure and prosperous phase in the wider turbulent era of the Fatimids. Therefore, Khusraw’s Safarnama is considered a reliable primary source for many aspects of Fatimid Egypt within a specific period.

Date article posted: November 4, 2011

Copyright: Hatim M. Mahamid

Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted and edited for publication on this Website with the permission of Dr. Mahamid from his longer paper that first appeared in the volume Nasir Khusraw; Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, pp. 355-366, ed.  Sarfaroz Niyozov and Ramazon Nazariev,  pub. Noshir Publishing House, 2005, Khujand, Tajikistan.


Dr. Hatim Mahamid

About the author: Dr. Hatim Mahamid received his Ph.D from Tel Aviv University in 2001, where he specialized in the history of medieval Islam, from Fatimid to Late Mamluk Egypt and Syria. He has published numerous articles in journals such The Journal of Islamic Studies, Islamic Quarterly, Nebula and Annales islamologiques, and contributed to four critical anthologies as well as presented papers at numerous conferences. His book Al-Tatawwurat fi Nizam al-Hukm wal-Idara fi Misr al-Fatimiyya was published in Jerusalem in 2001, and his book Dirasat fi Tarikh al-Quds al-Thaqafi fi al-‘Asr al-Wasit was published in Amman in 2009. He currently lectures in the Department of History at The Open University and The College of Sakhnin for Teacher Education.


Editor’s Note: Safarnama is a travel literature written during the 11th century by the Ismaili dai, Nasir Khusraw (1003-1077). Known also as the Book of Travels, the work shaped the future of classical Persian travel writing. An English translation of the work was done by Wheeler M. Thackston and is still in print under the title, Nasir-i Khusraw’s Book of Travels: Safarnamah. Also, the first chapter of One Thousand Roads to Mecca, a collection of works on Muslim writings about the Hajj, edited and introduced by Michael Wolfe, is dedicated to Nasir Khusraw.

Other articles by Dr. Mahamid on this Website:

1. Ismaili Dawa and Politics in Fatimid Egypt
2. Persians in Fatimid Egypt: (I) Their Role in the Army

3. Persians in Fatimid Egypt: (II) Their Role in the Da’wah and Ismaili Doctrines

4. Persians in Fatimid Egypt: (III) Their Role in Commerce, the Economy and Trade

Other links of interest:

Click Dai Nasir Khusraw Play “The Ruby Shines On” is now on Simerg’s Youtube Channel

Please also see Alice Hunsberger’s contribution “Riding Forth to Open the Canal” with Nasir Khusraw for this Website’s series I Wish I’d Been There.



[1] For example, Khusraw says regarding the wealth of the Egyptians: ‘If I mentioned or described it, people of Persia would never believe it’. See, Nasir Khusraw, Safarnama, an Arabic edition, Yahya al-Khashshab (Beirut, 1970), p.105.

[2] Nasir Khusraw wrote all of his compositions in Persian.

[3] Safarnama, p. 103.

[4] Jamal al-Din al-Shayyal, Ta‘rikh Misr al-islamiyya (Cairo, 1967), pp. 315-323; Ahmad b. ‘Ali al-Qalqashandi, Subh al-a‘sha fi sina‘at al-insha (Beirut, 1987), pp. 366-381. So most historians know these three connected cities by the names Fustat or Misr.

[5] Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Muqaddasi, Ahsan al-taqasim fi ma’rifat al-aqalim (Beirut, 1987), p. 170.

[6] Allah Ahmad b. Yahya Ibn Fazl Allah al Umari, Masalik al-absar fi mamalik al-amsar (Cairo, 1985), pp. 84-85. For more information regarding Cairo and Misr, see Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Mun’im al-Himyari, al-rawz al-mi‘tar fi khabar al-aqtar (Beirut, 1984), pp. 442-450; Taqiy al-Din Ahmad b. ‘Ali al-Maqrizi, al-khitat al-maqriziya al-musammah bi-al-mawa’iz wa-al-i‘tibar (Cairo, 1970), vol. 1, pp. 285-304; Ibid., vol.2, pp. 404-435; al-Qalqashandi, Subh al-a‘sha, vol. 3, pp. 366-410; al-Shurbaji, Ru‘yat al-rahhala, pp.310-318.

[7] Safarnama pp. 88-104.

[8] Ibid, p. 93.

[9] Ibid, pp. 99-100.

[10] Ibrahim B. Beshir, ‘Fatimid Military Organisation’, Der Islam, 55 (1978), pp. 37-53 or for more information, see Yaacov Lev, State and Society in Fatimid Egypt (Leiden, 1991), pp. 165-192.

[11] For the accounts of Fatimid troops, see Safarnama, pp. 94-95.

[12] Nasir Khusraw used the term Sultan instead of Caliph or Imam in his accounts.

[13] Safarnama, pp. 89-91 and 106-108.

[14] Ibid., p. 101.

[15] Al-Istakhri, Ibrahim b. Muhammad, al-Masalik wal-Mamalik (Cairo, 1961), p.39; Abu al-Qasim Muhammad lbn Hawqal, Kitab surat al-arz (Beirut, 1967). p. 146; Al-Muqaddasi, Ahsan al-taqasim, p. 168. However, al-Muqaddasi adds that Fustat’s houses are narrow.

[16] Al-’Umari, Masalik al-absar, pp. 84-85.

[17] Al-Maqrizi, al-Khitat, vol.2, p. 227. For an example of the muhtasib’s work and the banishing of an outlaw. See Muhammad b. Abdullah al-Musabbihi, Akhbar Misr, ed. Ayman Fu’ad Sayyid and Thierry Bianqis (Cairo, 1978), p. 78. For more about the muhtasib in the Fatimid period, see. B. Shoshan, ‘Fatimid Grain Policy and the Post of the Muhtasib’, IJMES, 13 (1981), pp. 181-189.

[18] See the description of some of the Fatimid ceremonies in Safarnama, pp. 93-97, 105, 106-108.

[19] Ibid., pp. 88-89.

[20] See al-Shurbaji, Ru’yat al-rahhla, pp. 306-314.

[21] See examples of those commercial centres in al-Musabbihi, Akhbar Misr, pp. 32, 78, 88, 91, 94, 101, 103, 108, 110, 111; Jamal al-Din Musa Ibn al-Ma’mun, Akhbar Misr, ed. Ayman Fu’ad Sayyid (Cairo, 1983), pp. 24,26,39; Ibn Muyassar, Akhbar Misr, pp. 77, 92, 95, 110, 104, 126-127. The Fatimid vizier Ma’mun al-Bata’ihi established a commercial house (dar al-wakala) in Cairo in 516/1122 to serve merchants from Iraq, Syria and other places. See al-Maqrizi, Itti’az al-hunafa bi-akhbar al-a’immat al-Fatimiyin al-khulafa (Cairo, 1973), vol.3, p. 92.

[22] See al-Shurbaji, Ru’yat al-rahhala, pp. 314-318.

[23] Safarnama, pp. 92 and 101-102.

[24] See Khusraw’s description regarding the ‘Amr Mosque in Misr, Safarnama, p. 102.

[25] Safarnama, p. 103.

[26] See, al-Muqaddasi, Ahsan al-taqsamim, pp. 167-170; Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Hawqal, Kitab surat asl-arz (Beirut, 1967), pp. 146-147.

[27] Safarnama, p. 106.

[28] Al-Muqaddasi, Ahsan al-taqasim (Beirut, 1987), p. 168.

[29] Safarnama, pp. 99-105.

[30] See about the role of al-’Ajami’s family in the Fatimid politics and economy in al-Musabbihi, Akhbar Misr, pp. 31-66, 100-101; al-Maqrizi, Itti‘az, vol.2, pp. 136-169.

[31] On the Tustari family and its role in the Fatimid state, see al-Maqrizi, Itti‘az, vol. 1, pp. 110-133; Ibid., vol. 2, p. 191; Safarnama, pp. 108-109; ‘Ali b. Munjib Ibn al-Sayrafi, al-Ishara ila man nal al-wazara (Cairo, 2000), p. 40; Ibn Muyassar, Akhbar Misr, pp. 3-5; Muhammad Hamdi al-Minnawi, al-Wazara wa’l-wuzara ‘fi al-‘asr al-Fatimi (Cairo, 1970), p. 309; Al-Qalqashandi, Subh al-a’sha, vol.3, p. 561; ‘Ali b. Abi al-Karam al-Shaybani Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi ‘l-tarikh (Beirut, 1983), vol. 8, p. 115; J. Mann, The Jews in Egypt and in Palestine under the Fatimid Caliphs (New York, 1970), vol. 1 pp, 76-83.

[32] See also the example of the caliph’s treatment of the Christian trader in Safarnama, pp. 105-106.

[33] Ibid., p. 108.

[34] See Khusraw’s description of these celebrations: Safarnama, pp. 93-97.

[35] Ibid., p. 95.

[31] Ibid., pp. 105-106.

[36] Safarnama, p. 95.

[38] Al-Qalqashandi, Subh al-a’sha, vol. 3, p. 559.

[39] Ibn Taghri Bardi, al-Nujum al-zahira fi muluk Misr wa‘l-Qahira (Cairo, 1935), vol.4, p. 43.

[40] Safarnama, p. 99.

[41] Ibid., pp. 110-112

[42] Al-Maqrizi, Ighathat, pp. 11-24.

[43] Safarnama, pp. 93-97.

[44] On the caliph’s tent, al-Qatul, see Ibn al-Mam’un, Akhbar Misr, pp. 55 and 102-103; Ibn Muyassar, Akhbar Misr, pp. 85-86; Al-Qalqashandi, Subh al-a‘sha, vol. 3, pp. 544,592.

[45] On the celebration of opening the canal (rukub fath al-khalij), see al-Maqrizi, Itti’az, vol. 2, p. 150; Ibid., Khitat, vol. 1, pp. 470, 493; Al-Qalqashandi, Subh al-a’sha, vol 3, pp. 592-595; Ibn Taghri Bardi, al-Nujum, vol.4, pp. 99-100; al-Musabbihi, Akhbar Misr, pp.10-11; Ibn al-Ma’mun, Akhbar Misr, pp. 71-73; Majid, ‘Abd al-Mun’im, Nuzum al-Fatimiyyin wa-rusumuhum fi Misr (Cairo, 1985), pp. 107-109.

[46] Safarnama, p.96.

[47] Ibid., pp. 114-115.

[48] Ibid., p. 77.

[49] See Ibn Hawqal, Surat al-arz, p. 152; al-Maqrizi also agrees with them in describing this manufacturing, see al-Maqrizi, al-Khitat, vol. 1, p. 176.

[50] Safarnama, p. 79.

[51] Ibn Hawqal, Surat al-arz, p.152.

[52] Safarnama, p. 77.


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6 thoughts on “Cairo in the Light of Nasir Khusraw’s Safarnama

  1. A well written work on the most celebrated traveller Pir Naser Khusro opens vistas of information of medieval Fatemi golden era, hidden hitherto from seekers of that historical era in the history of Islam. Thank you for your esteemed work. May Allah reward you consistently.

    • Many Thanks. See my new article on Nasir Khusraw:
      “Persecutions against Ismaʿili Missionaries in Central Asia: The Case of Nāser Khosrow”. Journal of Persianate Studies 10, (2017) 57–73.
      With Best Regards
      Hatim Mahamid

  2. I got this link from previous link and it will lead me to the next one, all ingeniously intertwined for a keen and curious Murid to have a glimpse of our long history of the Rope of Imamat and the epic journey lasting some 7 years of Pir Nasir Khusraw the equally rich description of his journey via Safarnama that alas, not literate in Farsi, I can only taste the surface through other people’s study of it. Thank you Editor, for going across countries, continents taking your readers through time in search of knowledge to improve our understanding of our unique Tariqah.

    • Thank you Zarina on these kind and beautiful words. This encourages me to write and search more about this important and marvelous person (Nasir Khusraw). In the nearest time a new publication of mine will appear about him in “Iranian Studies.”

      With best regards

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