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Author Topic: PILLARS OF HERCULES, SEA OF DARKNESS  (Read 3126 times)
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« on: August 19, 2007, 05:39:18 pm »

The Arabs knew these islands through Ptolemy, and called them Jaza'ir al-Khalidat, "The Eternal Isles," presumably a version of the Greek name. Some sources speak of these islands as if they were legend­ary, telling us for example that on each of the six islands - there are in fact seven - there was a bronze statue, like the one in Cádiz, warning voyagers to turn back. But al-Idrisi, the famous 12th-century geog­rapher, who wrote at the court of King Roger of Sicily (See Aramco World , July-August 1977), tells of an attempted expedition to the Canaries in the late 12th-century, during the reign of the Almoravid amir Yusuf ibn Tashafin. The admiral in charge of the expedition died just as it was about to set out, so the venture came to nothing. Al-ldrisi says the admiral's curiosity was aroused by smoke rising from the sea in the west, probably the result of volcanic activity.

After telling us that the Canaries had been visited by Alexander the Great and that the tomb of a pre-Islamic South Arabian king, made of marble and col­ored glass, can be seen on one of them, al-Idrisi gives the names of two of the islands. The island with a "circular mountain" in the center is called Masfahan. This is probably Tenerife, and the round mountain would be the 3600-meter-high (12,000-foot) volcano called Pico de Teide. The other island is called Laghus and is probably Gran Canaria. Neither name is Arabic, nor do they appear to be transcriptions of Greek, Latin or Romance - but the fact that these two islands had names at all means mariners must have visited them, and the names are either native designations or hark back to some lost, perhaps oral, source.

Even more interesting is al-Idrisi's account of an actual voyage of exploration into the western Atlantic, undertaken by 80 brave men from Lis­bon whom he calls the mugharrirun, best ren­dered as "intrepid explorers." The expedition must have taken place before 1147 - the date Lisbon fell to the Christians - but it is impossi­ble to be more precise. The mugharrirun were so famous for their exploit that a street in Lisbon was named after them. The story is worth giving in full, for its mixture of fact and legend is characteristic of early accounts of Atlantic voyaging:
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