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Traditional lanterns light up the holy month of Ramadan

By Susannah Palk for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ramadan lanterns are one of the most enduring symbols of the month-long festival
  • The tradition is believed to have originated in Egypt over 800 years ago
  • The lanterns are used for decorative purposes and are most popular with children
RELATED TOPICS
  • Religion
  • Islam
  • North Africa
  • Culture and Lifestyle
  • Egypt

(CNN) -- Countless streets across the Islamic world are currently alight with ornate festive lanterns.

Part of a tradition dating back over 800 years, the Ramadan lanterns, or "fanoos," have become one of the most popular and enduring symbols of the month-long festival.

Believed to have originated in Egypt -- where the lanterns are most prevalent -- it is almost impossible to know how the tradition began.

Legends are numerous and varied, but one of the most popular features Egyptian Al Hakim Bi-Amr Illah who ruled over the North African Shiite Moslem Fatimid dynasty in the 10th century. He was said to have ordered all imams to light the streets of Cairo during the Ramadan nights.

Nowadays, the brightly colored lanterns, made of tin and colored-glass are used for decorative purposes and are very popular with children.

Despite their popularity, traditional handmade lanterns are facing stiff competition from Chinese plastic reproductions, threatening a way of life for the many lantern-makers, especially in the city of Cairo, Egypt.