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Botanical Art: Cairo’s Matarea Garden with Marcus Milwright

Join us on March 8, 2020, from 2pm-4pm as Marcus Milwright takes us to Cairo’s Matarea Garden.

During the Medieval period the finest balsam oil was traded for its weight in gold. The source of this precious substance was a walled garden owned by the sultan of Egypt, and located in the town of Matarea just outside of Cairo. Balsam was often sent as part of lavish diplomatic gifts, particularly to the rulers of Medieval Europe. Balsam was also one of the panaceas of the pre-modern world, used as an antidote to poisons and for treating everything from cataracts to infected wounds. This talk uses visual sources and texts, including European travel accounts and Coptic religious writings, to reconstruct the topography of the garden in the centuries prior to the demise of the last balsam tree in 1615.

Marcus Milwright is professor of Islamic art and archaeology in the Department of Art History and Visual Studies, University of Victoria. He held research fellowships at the Aga Khan Programs for Islamic Architecture at Harvard and MIT and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art at Shangri La (Honolulu). He is involved in archaeological and architectural projects in Jordan, Syria and Greece and has created the Crafts of Syria website. His books include An Introduction to Islamic Archaeology (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), and The Dome of the Rock and its Umayyad Mosaic Inscriptions (Edinburgh University Press, 2016); and The Arts and Crafts of Syria and Egypt from the Ayyubids to World War I: Collected Essays (Gorgias Press, 2018). He is currently completing a cultural history of the balsam plantation of Matarea in Egypt and is working on a series of projects related to the visual and material culture of early Islam.