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AL IDRISI MAP

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Author Topic: AL IDRISI MAP  (Read 3518 times)
Bianca
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« on: December 05, 2007, 09:14:01 pm »








Early in the 11th century a band of Norman adventurers, the Hautevilles, had ridden into southern Italy to wrest it from the Byzantine Greeks and the Muslims, and in 1101 Count Roger d'Hauteville capped his career by conquering Sicily. Four years later, he passed the territory on to his son, Roger, who in 1130 was crowned king as Roger II.


Tall, dark-haired, bearded and corpulent, Roger, from a magnificent palace in Palermo, ruled his kingdom with a balanced mixture of diplomacy, ruthlessness, wisdom and skill that has led many historians to term his kingdom the best-governed European state of the Middle Ages. His energy was a legend—one commentator remarked that Roger accomplished more asleep than other sovereigns did awake—and his court boasted a collection of philosophers, mathematicians, doctors, geographers and poets which had no superior in Europe—and in whose company he spent much of his time. "In mathematics, as in the political sphere," al-Idrisi wrote of his patron, "the extent of his learning cannot be described. Nor is there any limit to his knowledge of the sciences, so deeply and wisely has he studied them in every particular. He is responsible for singular innovations and for marvelous inventions, such as no prince has ever before realized."


Roger's interest in geography was the expression of a scientific curiosity just awakening in Europe, but inevitably he turned to a Muslim for help. Christian Europe's approach to map-making was still symbolic and fanciful, based on tradition and myth rather than scientific investigation, and used to illustrate books of pilgrimage, Biblical exegesis and other works. Picturesque and colorful, European maps showed a circular earth composed of three continents equal in size—Asia, Africa and Europe—separated by narrow bands of water. The Garden of Eden and Paradise were at the top and Jerusalem at the center, while fabulous monsters occupied the unexplored regions—Sirens, dragons, men with dogs' heads, men with feet shaped like umbrellas with which they protected themselves from the sun while lying down.


A few practical maps did exist—mariners' charts showing coastlines, capes, bays, shallows, ports of call and watering and provisioning places—but in a typical medieval divorce of science and technology, these remained in the hands of navigators. Information from travelers, too, filtered only very slowly onto Christian maps. What King Roger had in mind, therefore, was something as factual as the mariners' charts, but encompassing the whole known world. The mission he entrusted to al-Idrisi was intellectually Herculean: to collect and evaluate all available geographical knowledge—from books and from on-the-spot observers—and to organize it into an accurate and meaningful representation of the world. His purpose was partly practical, but mostly scientific: to produce a work which would sum up all the contemporary knowledge of the physical world.
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