It's a long, long way from Toronto's Don Valley Parkway to the royal court of Shah Tahmasp I, who ruled Persia in the 16th century, but all of a sudden closer than you'd think.
On Sept. 18, the Aga Khan Museum, a chiseled, light-filled structure of Brazilian granite, opened its doors to the public and, with a primary goal of raising awareness about Muslim culture.
The project is funded by Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the religious leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community, and his organization, the Aga Khan Development Network.
The museum is the first of its kind, displaying artifacts from Islamic civilizations over the centuries. As the first museum of Islamic art in all of North America, it acts as a pioneer of pluralism and tolerance.
Muslim societies comprise a quarter of the world’s population, yet there is limited knowledge of the people and their faith in the West. This considerable lack of understanding spans all aspects of the peoples of Islam: their pluralism, the diversity of their interpretations of the Qur’anic faith, the chronological and geographical extent of their history and culture, as well as their ethnic, linguistic and social diversity.
Artifacts are displayed on two floors, in large, high-ceilinged, discreetly lit white rooms with teak floors. The main-floor space prefaced by a corridor illuminated by an arresting series of video animations, has its treasures arranged chronologically on an L-shaped footprint, and is decidedly Catholic in its presentation. There are three large vitrines displaying Korans of varying degrees of calligraphic magnificence; a 10th-century inkwell carved from rock crystal; a marble fountain, with geometric mosaics, from a palatial courtyard in 15th-century Egypt; a tunic of beige brocaded silk worn by a horseman in 14th-century Iran; the oldest-known extant version of The Canon of Medicine, compiled in Persia in the 11th century; a bronze astrolabe with silver insets from 14th-century Spain, its surface inscribed in Arabic, Hebrew and Latin.
Not only are the artificats on display stunning - the setting is as well. The structure features a spectacular dome-shaped auditorium, two permanent galleries, a rotating gallery, an Ismaili religious centre, an indoor courtyard and an outdoor courtyard that mimics the Mughal-made Shalimar Gardens in Lahore.
For fine diners, the museum’s Diwan restaurant offers tastes of Turkey, Iran, North Africa, Central and South Asia. For those in search of merchandise, the building has a gift shop that features items inspired by the museum’s collection of nearly 1,000 artifacts.
We all enjoyed out visit to the museum and will be eturning for future exhibits and of course to eat again at Diwan!