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Central Islamic Lands

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Richard Ettinghausen et al.

From The Art and Architecture of Islam: 650-1250
© 1987 Yale University Press
Reproduced by permission of Yale University Press


The Zangid and Ayyubid princes who assumed control in Muslim Syria from various petty local dynasts first succeeded in ejecting the Crusaders from Edessa in the Jazira (1146), then took over Egypt (1171), and finally pushed the Crusaders back until, by the time of the Mongol invasion in 1258-60, only a few fortresses remained in Christian hands in Syria and Palestine, and a constantly diminishing Armenian kingdom barely subsisted in Cilicia (now south central Turkey). The changes in Fatimid Egypt after the middle of the eleventh century have already been discussed; this section concentrates on Syria and Palestine under Seljuq, Zangid, and Ayyubid rulers, and on Egypt after its conquest by the Ayyubid Saladin. Brief mention will be made of Yemen, remote and isolated from the main stream of central Islamic lands, but where a branch of the Ayyubid family established itself after the end of Fatimid rule.

These were memorable centuries for Islamic architecture in Syria. The two old cities of Aleppo and Damascus were totally revitalized,162 and small and at times almost abandoned towns and villages were transformed into major centres.163 It was a period of intense architectural activity which is finally drawing the attention of scholars and, most interestingly, of architects and urbanists involved in the rehabilitation of old cities and the restoration of their monuments. Enough material exists to justify, as was the case with eastern Islamic lands, a presentation of monuments separately from observations and considerations on techniques of architecture.

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