By: Agnieszka Dobrowolska
Thanks in large part to nineteenth-century texts such as Edward William Lane's "Description of Egypt" and the "Description de l'Egypte" compiled by Napoleon's savants, contemporary researchers have a remarkable understanding of the ways in which ordinary Egyptians practiced their crafts and trades in earlier times. Many of these traditional arts and crafts - such as stonemasonry, marble work, blacksmithing, glassblowing, carpentry, wood turning, inlay work, and gilding - still survive today, although they are rapidly disappearing. As profound social and economic change continue to reshape Egypt, a rich tradition of skills, tools, specialized vocabularies, and social and spatial patterns associated with these crafts - once thought to be immutable - may vanish forever.
With lively prose, painstaking research, and lavish illustration, "The Building Crafts of Cairo" succeeds in capturing these endangered ways of life and work before it is too late. Agnieszka Dobrowolska is the director of a joint project between the European Union and Cairo's Netherlands-Flemish Institute dedicated to documenting Cairo's traditional crafts. Moreover, for the past eleven years, she has worked hands-on as a conservation architect in Cairo, relying on local skills, techniques, and materials in the course of her projects, and coming into daily contact with craftsmen and artisans - visiting them in their workshops, observing their methods, and employing their crafts for practical purposes.
The result is a record that is at once intimate, unexpected, and expertly observed, and a book that will appeal to both scholars and lay audiences.