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AL IDRISI MAP

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Bianca
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« on: December 05, 2007, 09:12:51 pm »








                                                  Al-Idrisi And Roger’s Book





Written by Frances Carney Gies

In the year 1138, the royal palace at Palermo, Sicily was the scene of a long-awaited meeting between an unusual Christian king and a distinguished Muslim scholar. As his visitor entered the hall, the king rose, took his hand and led him across the carpeted marble to a place of honor beside the throne. Almost at once the two men began to discuss the project for which the scholar had been asked to come from North Africa: the creation of the first accurate—and scientific—map of the entire known world.



The monarch was Roger II, King of Sicily.

                                                                       

                                                                        His distinguished guest the Arab geographer al-Idrisi.

Born in Ceuta, Morocco, across the strait from Spain, al-Idrisi was then in his late 30's. After studying in Cordoba, in Muslim Spain, he had spent some years in travel, covering the length of the Mediterranean, from Lisbon to Damascus. As a young man with poetic pretensions he had written student verse celebrating wine and good company, but in the course of his journeys he had discovered his real passion: geography.


Al-Idrisi's writings tell us less about his own character and personality than about those of the man who became his host and patron. Roger II, son of a Norman-French soldier of fortune who had conquered Sicily at the beginning of the 12th century, was an anomaly among Christian monarchs of his time. His co-religionists, commenting on his oriental life-style, complete with harem and eunuchs, disparagingly referred to him as the "half-heathen king" and "the baptized Sultan of Sicily." Educated by Greek and Arab tutors, he was an intellectual with a taste for scientific inquiry, and relished the company of Muslim scholars, of whom al-Idrisi was one of the most celebrated.


Such cultural communication at a time when Crusaders and Muslims were battling in the Holy Land and while Mediterranean pirates of both faiths plundered each other's ships and ports may seem surprising. But Crusades and piracy notwithstanding, medieval merchants did brisk business across the frontiers of religion, and inevitably ideas were exchanged as well as products.


Sicily in particular was a meeting ground for the two civilizations. Captured by the Arabs in 831, the island had remained in Muslim control until the end of the11th century. Like Muslim Spain (see Aramco World, September-October, 1976), it was a beacon of prosperity to a Europe caught in the economic slow-down we call the Dark Ages. The occupying Arabs had built dams, irrigation systems, reservoirs and water towers, introduced new crops—oranges and lemons, cotton, date palms, rice—and exploited the island's mines and fishing grounds.
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