basic knowledge of how to transfer reciprocal motion to rotary motion was
known throughout most of Ancient Egypt. In Egypt, under the Islamic
civilization, bow lathe technology (known as Khart) developed
to an unsurpassed art form. From there, it spread all over the Islamic
world. One of the most spectacular examples of Khart
can be seen in the 9th century Minbar of the Qayrwan mosque
in Tunisia, the oldest sanctuary in the Islamic Maghrib.
lathe is the simpler and most effective version of the lathe. It is characterized
by reciprocal motion, rotation caused by the up and down movement of the
bow held in the right hand.
idea of the lathe is simple and ingenious. A piece of wood is made
to turn on an axis while a sharp tool cuts or scrapes the wood into a desired
shape. The wood is set steady upon two points of an axis between two spikes
(`usluwg in Arabic) "centers" held by the uprights
between which the wood spins. The turner cuts on the down stroke, and then
lets the spring action of the bow power the return motion.
two points - centers - acting together, can without exerting any force,
effectively prevent the wood from slipping in any direction, and resist
the rotation of the work piece on the other two axes. Furthermore, provided
the points fit the holes in which they are engaged, the work can be removed,
and replaced with absolute accuracy - the setting is "repeatable" and almost
Islamic bow lathes are historically more accurate than electric lathes,
which are handicapped in fashioning the miniscule modular beads, pared
in different sizes. These beads are the main component of the Mashrabiyah
lathe fashioned beads are eventually connected together with transitional
miniature wood turned spindles, which are fitted together to create an
all over pattern of latticework (see picture below).
the craftsman’s bow moves back and forth, the wood turns as well, while
his left foot (for guidance) rests on the chisel held in the left
hand, forcing a wedge and paring the wood to the desired shape. The
number and speed of the rotations is fully controlled by the craftsman.
fitting of the latticework is crafted entirely without the use of nails
or glue. Thus creating multi-designed latticework intended to be
used as windows and balcony screens, furniture decoration, etc.
design of the Mashrabiyyat is purposely created in versatile
designs in order to adjust the amount of desired light and air penetrating
into the rooms. For example, a Mashrabiyah on the northern
side (Bahriy) is designed with less density to easily allow
the flow of air. While for windows facing the Qibliy, the
sunny southeast side of homes, the design pattern is usually narrower to
shield the room from excessive light and heat. Mashrabiyat
serve another important function, that of privacy, a hallmark of Islamic
to Egypt, the birthplace of the Mashrabiyah, wooden
latticework, wood assembly, and lathe turning have spread all over the
world. These styles, commonly known as “lathe-turning Arabesque”,
were adapted and copied in many fashions throughout western Europe,
by way of Andalusia.
the biggest blow to the Mashrabiyah style came as Cairo
a new physiognomy under Muhammad `Aliy Pasha.
buildings usually designed with Mashrabiyat were dealt
a severe setback as a new style appeared with the prohibition against building
ordered by the Waliy. Muhammad `Aliy's excuse
was nominally for safety reasons, but mostly to legislate "modernism."
use of glass windowpanes, a style that was half European and half Turkish,
accompanied by a new organization of interior spaces that would become
widespread in the second half of the century, supplanted the Mashrabiyat.
With modernization the demand for Mashrabiyat dwindled
significantly and the art consequently suffered greatly. By mid 20th century,
the craft was already teetering on the threshold of oblivion.
under the 1952 Revolution, Mashrabiyat experienced
a second lease on life under the new impetus of the dynamic minister of
Tharwat `Ukashah, who embarked on an
ambitious program to revive Egypt’s folklore arts and crafts.
For that purpose, in the early 1960s, a center for folklore crafts
was dedicated and established in wikalit al-Ghuwriy.
Its goal was to teach the new generations the old traditional crafts of
lest they vanish forever.
center assembled all the old master craftsmen in Egypt and sponsored
their work. Among them, the few remaining involved in the dying art of
This effort successfully resuscitated the craft, just in the nick of time.
Today without exception, all Khart craftsmen can trace
their apprenticeship to this center.
then, the Mashrabiyah
type of woodturning, an exquisite and delicate
woodturning craft, has remained solely the domain of Egyptian artisans.
talks were underway between the Cairene Khart
craftsmen and the legendary carpenters of the port of Dumyat
to merge in a joined effort to launch Egyptian designed furniture worldwide,
Mashrabiyat as their signature. Their ambitious
hope is to reestablish Egypt’s past supremacy in this field
are the different traditional tools used in woodturning in Egypt
and their terminology, both in Arabic and English