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Reviewed by:
  • Historic Cities of the Islamic World
  • Mohammad Gharipour (bio)
Historic Cities of the Islamic World, ed. by Edmund Bosworth. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2007. 583 pages. 83 figures. 189 euros. $280.

Illustrating the living organism of the Islamic cities, Historic Cities of the Islamic World explores the mechanisms and motivations of the Islamic city. This work is based on entries already published in the Encyclopedia of Islam (EI). The reason behind the creation of this book, according to Bosworth, is the fact that some EI entries, especially the ones on the cities near the beginning of the alphabet, are outdated. These encyclopedia entries, some of which were originally published decades earlier, did not include the results of immense studies during the second half of the 20th century or many recent historical developments of cities. Furthermore, the limited space for encyclopedia entries led to the elimination of some important details. All these problems are resolved in this volume, in which pictures are also added to complement discussions within papers. The inclusion of papers is based on their role in Islamic history as well as their geographical spread.

Bosworth classifies the Islamic city as one that has a "core of religio-public and communal buildings … but in its residential areas stretch outwards to the periphery in a less planned, often apparently higgle-dy-piggledy, pattern, with a network of enclosed, private, blind alleys, often gated for defense" (p. xi). In this context, the analysis of the pre-Islamic roots of cities is an important aspect of this book that distinguishes it from its competitors.

In comparison with its predecessors, most of which focus on specific historic periods or concepts, this volume aims to serve as an encyclopedia for cities in the Islamic world. Each entry provides general information about the city (i.e., geographical location, population), its pre-Islamic foundations, and its historical development in the cultural and political context. The last section of the book consists of the images of the cities and buildings introduced in articles. The rich bibliographies of the entries comprise firsthand references, while prioritizing translations of texts in European languages. In this respect, the editor should be credited for updating the old articles and bibliographies. The stress is evidently on the process rather than the product. While each entry introduces most crucial urban elements (e.g., market, mosque, and palace) more emphasis is put on the historical context of cities. Despite the wide range of approaches taken by the contributors, the harmonious organization of entries enhances the cohesion throughout the volume.

The brief introduction of the book deserves [End Page 157] to be much more comprehensive. It should provide some theoretical background on the definitions of Islamic cities and their dominant design characteristics, as well as research approaches applied in the whole volume. Despite the comprehensiveness of the list of papers, the editor's explanation regarding the selection of cities does not seem to be sufficient. Another question is related to factors that distinguish cities from villages in the Islamic world. The ambiguous nature of the dichotomy between urban and rural in a Middle Eastern context necessitates a fundamental discussion on this topic.

Since the entries are based on the Encyclopedia of Islam, the editor cannot be blamed for some inconsistencies in their length or the lack of outlines in medium-length entries. In fact, the reader may ask about the priorities determining the length of entries: Is this based on the availability of references, the political role of cities, their historical age, or simply because they are traditionally highlighted/emphasized in the Western literature? The section on monuments in each entry could have been expanded in order to offer more in-depth data about the relationship between cities and buildings. The inclusion of the city name etymology in the beginning of each entry would be a good addition in subsequent editions. Some images collected at the end of the book do not seem to be very informative and lack the power to connect the reader to the contents of the entries, either for their low-resolution or small size. Adding site plans of all cities and enhancing the quality of the images would significantly...


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pp. 157-158
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