God is beautiful and He loves beauty

Article written  in Al-Ahram Weekly on the 22nd July, 2004


Dig Days : Hall of fame
By Zahi Hawass

We shall never forget the names of Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of King Tut on 4 November 1922, or Sir Flinders Petrie, who is known as the father of Egyptology, or the American Egyptologist George Reisner. Perhaps we remember these important men because of the magic and mystery of the Pharaohs. However, there is another name that should be remembered: that of K A C Creswell.

While he did not excavate mummies or tombs, he studied Islamic architecture. This man could be more important than those who lived beside the temples and tombs of the Pharaohs.

K A C Creswell was born in 1879 and died in 1974. It is impossible to study Islamic architecture without reading his books. My friend Professor Abdullah Schleifer of the American University in Cairo (AUC) invited me to attend a photographic exhibition dedicated to Creswell. The exhibition was entitled, "Creswell's Cairo: Then and Now", and was opened by Al- Mufti: Ali Goma, a pleasant, modest man, and Sir Derek Plumbly, the recently appointed British ambassador in Cairo, whose Egyptian wife is Nadia Sahar. Schleifer was able, with the assistance of Noha Abou Khatwa, to introduce rare photographs taken by this unique Englishman who dedicated his life to the study of Islamic architecture in Cairo, as well as photographs taken today to allow the audience to compare the past with the present. In this way, Schleifer reintroduced me to Creswell.

The first time I became aware of Creswell was when Oxford University Press asked me to write an article about Islamic Cairo. At that time I was teaching at UCLA, and had the opportunity to do my library research there. I found that this great scholar had written most of the books I read on the subject. The second time I encountered Creswell was when I became the head of Egyptian Antiquities, where I learned that most of the restoration being carried out on mosques and Islamic houses in Cairo depended on Creswell's work. The third time I was introduced to Creswell it was by Schleifer, an energetic scholar who was keen on inviting me to come and give a speech about Creswell, since he can be seen as a pioneer in his field.

In fact, Creswell could be considered the best of the scholars in the field of Islamic architecture. He was born into a small family and had a stable, religious upbringing. He began to study mathematics and at an early age started to read about Eastern architecture. In 1896 Creswell left Westminster School and joined the university to study architecture and learn to draw mosques and museums. He found a job with an electrical company and started to collect books and manuscripts on Islamic art. But 1916 was the year that changed his life, when he traveled to Egypt as a member of the British Air Force. He was asked by the military to record all the architectural buildings from Iran to Egypt and to re-photograph them.

In 1920 he offered King Fouad maps and drawings of about 65 per cent of the Islamic monuments in Cairo. In 1931 he was appointed professor of architecture and Islamic art at Fouad University (now Cairo University), where he established an institute connected with the faculty of arts to study Islamic monuments. In 1949 he was appointed a curator in the antiquities museum in Aurshaleem, Palestine, and was later appointed a professor of Islamic architecture at AUC.

In 1956 he gave his library to AUC. This included about 3,000 books and articles on Islamic architecture and about 11,000 photographs which became seminal references for Islamic monuments. One of Creswell's greatest achievements was the research he did at the Citadel in Cairo, which left us with a detailed description of the complex. This exhibition demonstrates the hard work and devotion that Creswell gave to science. It introduces us to a unique scholar whose love and passion for Islamic monuments is remarkable. Creswell's work showed the magic and mystery of the Islamic monuments, like the Pharaohs before it. AUC, represented by Schleifer, should also be thanked for their hard work in photographing those sites that Creswell studied in the past.