Institut du Monde Arabe (Institut of the Arab world), located in Paris’ 5th arrondissement, is at once museum, library and cultural center. A Franco-Arab project, it also hosts a Lebanese panoramic rooftop restaurant and displays a contemporary East-West design.
Founded in 1980 in Paris when a group of 18 Arab countries concluded an agreement with France to inform and cooperate; the museum aids in sharing cultural exchanges and helps to form bridges between the Arab world and Europe. Libya later joined in ’84 and the building was completed in ’87.
Institut de Monde Arabe begins with artifacts found across Central Asia and the Middle East in the pre-Islamic period, including many beautiful mosaics from Roman Tunisia. It then moves into pottery styles, carpet, and jewelry.
The stars of the museum’s collection, however, are the illuminated manuscripts and calligraphy. Calligraphy was the central artistic endeavor of the Middle East, and the decorated Korans on display are a prime example. The collection includes the rarer Kufic script, the oldest form of Arabic writing, which dates back before 600A.D. and is the style in which the earliest known Korans were written.
The museum also features medical and astronomical instruments, which serve to illustrate how much further advanced the Arab world was in the pre-Renaissance period. Succinctly said, the historical insight and artistic beauty provided by the Institut de Monde Arabe make it a worthwhile, near essential stop.
Words of warning: Photography inside the museum is not encouraged; if you are going to take photos, please be sensitive and remember that many of the artifacts are old and delicate- no flash! As with many museums in Paris, there isn’t any information written in English… audio guide to the rescue! 5 euro.
edited by Juliette Todd – Amateur Traveler Editor