School of Cities / Event

Knowledge Café | Cairo and the Nile: Urban Dialogues with a River

With its seasonal flooding and recession, the Nile has shaped and reshaped Egypt’s landscape for millennia. This talk explores how the river Nile, as an ever-changing force of nature and lifeforce, has played an underexamined yet critical role in the shaping of Cairo’s urbanism throughout its history. This talk will consider how medieval Cairo is a city marked by dual exigencies, flood management and Nile veneration.

This project is informed by Professor Heba’s SSRCH Insight Development Grant project titled Modalities of Nature Veneration in Medieval Islam which works to delineate and reconstitute the natural and primordial roots of sacrality in Medieval Islam, to further embed nature guardianship as intrinsic to Islamic cultural identity and governance.

It brings into conversation the mediatory role of nature in reconciling the religious, spiritual, and scientific contexts in Medieval Islam with a focus on the urban nature of such dialogues. Furthermore, it problematizes the identity of Muslim communities as both guardians of the natural world and upholders of hegemonic Islamic practice, to inform the debate around Muslim orthodoxy, governance, the sacred, and the environment.


Heba Mostafa is Assistant Professor of Islamic art and architecture at the Department of Art History, University of Toronto, St George Campus. She received her doctorate from Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture in 2012. Her research focuses on the formation of Islamic architecture as well as Islam’s interface with late antiquity, Christianity and Judaism through commemorative architecture, pilgrimage and ritual practice, with a particular focus on Jerusalem and Cairo.



Mostafa, Heba. “The Nile as Nexus: The Nilometer at al-Rawda Island Between Veneration and Mediation in the Medieval Islamic Period,” Imperial Landscapes: Empires, Societies, and Environments in the Ancient to Modern Nile Delta, Cambridge University Press. (In press-Forthcoming 2023).

Mostafa, Heba. “Locating the Sacred in Early Islamic Architecture”, The Religious Architecture of Islam, ed. Kathryn Moore and Hasan-Uddin Khan, Brepols, 2021.