This lecture takes us on a virtual journey in search for women in medieval Cairo. Exploring palaces and ordinary houses, markets and cemeteries, leisure pavilions on the Nile and ateliers, the quest for the attainment of a historically accurate portrayal of women in medieval Egypt turns the social historian into a veritable detective. Armed with the forensic tools of textual analysis, material evidence, scarce documentary sources and a dose of intuition Dr. Cortese unpacks anecdotes, literary conventions, historical accounts and forged stories to shed light on women’s participation – whether real or perceived- to the political, economic, social and cultural life of the time and place they lived in.
The lecture focuses on women in Cairo in the Fatimid period (969-1171). During Fatimid rule, royal patronage, religious tolerance and commercial prosperity promoted the establishment and growth of a cosmopolitan urban society that brought to Cairo and the neighbouring city of al-Fustat women of varied religious, ethnic and social backgrounds. Some of these women rose to become royalty while others left their mark as transmitters of learning. Seeking them out deepens our knowledge of life in medieval Cairo.