CAIRO, Egypt – Horrified at the looting of Iraqi antiquities in Baghdad, an Egyptian museum has assembled a special show to give the world an idea of the treasures that have been plundered in the chaos of postwar Iraq.
The exhibition at the Islamic Art Museum in old Cairo offers Iraqi antiquities ranging from a holy warrior's sword to a 14th century dinner table inlaid with silver.
The aim is to "show the world" the glories of Iraqi civilization, museum director Raafat Abdel Azeem said at the show's opening on Thursday. He and his staff speedily mounted the exhibition from the museum's standing display, other collections and items that had been in storage for decades.
Many exhibits date back to the Abbasid dynasty — the Muslim caliphs who made Baghdad their capital and ruled the Islamic empire from A.D. 749 to 1258, when the Mongols sacked the city. The early years of Abbasid rule were especially brilliant, with art and commerce flourishing.
The exhibition displays antique gold and silver coins on which "Allah" or God is the only word that can still be read. The coins were minted in Mosul, Kufa and other Iraqi cities.
A highlight of the show is a double-edged sword with a hilt made of horn. It was given to the museum many years ago by an Egyptian prince. The blade bears gilded inscriptions to Allah and the Prophet Muhammad.
Another inscription reads: "No chivalrous person except Ali. No sword but Zuelfaker." This indicates the sword's owner was a Shiite Muslim because he is asking for the support of Ali bin Abi Talib, Imam of the Shiites. Zuelfaker was the name of Ali's sword.
The same display case holds a steel helmet worn by a fighter who is going off to wage jihad, or holy war. It is decorated with geometrical designs, Quranic verses and the names of Prophet Muhammad's comrades.
Abdel Azeem told The Associated Press that the helmet was seized at Cairo airport in the 1980s when an American tried to smuggle it out of Egypt. "Instead of punishing him, they asked to hand over the helmet to the antiquity authorities and set him free," Abdel Azeem said.
Museum director Abdel Azeem especially likes a dinner table inlaid with silver images of flowers and ducks. It dates back to 1327.
"This is the most fabulous piece here," Abdel Azeem said.