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The Silk of Mamluk

Sound installation

WUK | Vienna, Austria. 


With 7,000 years of history, Egypt has long been at the center of global commerce and at the axis of trade routes linking Asia, Europe, and Africa. Egypt was well integrated into the international trading economy, thanks to two branches of the Silk Roads, with Alexandria in the north along the Mediterranean and Berenice in the east at the Red Sea. These points fed into the historic commercial artery carrying all the luxury goods then available.

A connecting road existed between the two cities to allow the goods to travel from Asia to Europe, making Egypt a central player in the bridge between the East and West. Remnants of Chinese silks have been discovered in ancient Egypt, marking the trade relations between the two countries.

It is said that Fustat, today’s southern Cairo, has been the archaeological site containing the most Chinese ceramics than any other site excavated along the Silk Roads. During the excavations of 1912-1920, it’s been said that over 600,000 wares were found.

Egypt was an extension of the spice routes that crossed through today’s Saudi Arabia, Oman, and India, and, like in Saudi Arabia, the economy of trade was decidedly important to the Egyptian economy under the Islamic caliphate.

Egypt was an early producer of glass and exported it along the Roads, all the way through China. It was thanks to Egypt and a couple of other Mediterranean countries that others in Central Asia learned to produce the goods in the 5th century.

Such a rich past has left Egypt with an unsurpassed heritage, traditional Nile cruises, oases, bazaars, and other trade and religious centers.

The Mamluk empire (1250–1517) was a military-controlled sultanate that ruled lands in present-day Egypt and Syria. Trade between the Venetians and Mamluks began as early as the thirteenth century and profited both empires, strengthening their diplomatic ties. Trade led to the exchange of materials and goods as well as artistic styles and techniques.

Artists in Syria and Egypt produced works of exquisite craftsmanship in glass, metal, silk, and wood to be traded with Europe, most often through the Venetians.

The Venetians particularly valued the opulence and sophistication of Mamluk enameled glassware and began producing local imitations. Some of the buildings erected in Venice during the height of this trade relationship also reflected the Mamluk style, which the Venetians saw as luxurious and exotic.


The Mamluks and Venetians remained advantageous trading partners until Ottoman forces conquered the Mamluks in 1516–17. Trade between the former Mamluk lands and Venice continued but under the auspices of Ottoman rule.

The reality is that the Mamluk empire era in Egypt was not engraved in history with gold lines for its strength, but also the relationship between it and the path of the Silk Road was very rich, on the commercial, social, and cultural levels. These are some points about the research that I would like to work on in the history of the intersection of the Silk Road in the Mamluk Empire.


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