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Author Topic: AL IDRISI MAP  (Read 3610 times)
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« on: December 05, 2007, 09:18:07 pm »

Distortions, omissions, and misconceptions notwithstanding, the superiority of al-Idrisi's map over the world maps of medieval Europe is striking. Contrasted with the quaint and picturesque, but almost totally uninformative maps of the Christian scholars, the features of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East are easily recognizable in al-Idrisi's representationóBritain, Ireland, Spain, Italy, the Red Sea and the Nile.

The book that accompanied the great silver planisphere was even more remarkable. The first medieval "general geography," and the most elaborate description of the world produced in the Middle Ages, Roger's Book undertook a stupendous task, that of systematically describing the habitable world, beginning with the first section of the first climate at Ptolemy's prime meridian, the Canary Islands. It proceeded from west to east and from south to north through each of the 10 sections of the seven climates. Each section opened with a general description of the region, then a list of the principal cities, then a detailed account of each city, with distances between cities: "From Fez to Ceuta, on the Strait of Gibraltar, heading north, seven days. From Fez to Tlemcen, nine days, following this itinerary: from Fez turn toward the great river of Sebou . . ."

The first division of the first climate began in the Western Sea, the "Sea of Darkness." "In this sea are two islands named the Fortunate Isles . . . Nobody knows of habitable land beyond that." To the south al-Idrisi pictured a great river, the "Nile of the Negroes," a composite of the Senegal and the Niger, that flowed from Central Africa west to the Atlantic. Via this river the salt trade was carried on with the Sudan. Al-Idrisi described the lost city of Ghana (near Timbuktu, on the Niger) as "the most considerable, the most densely peopled, and the largest trading center of the Negro countries." In the fourth section of the first climate, al-Idrisi located the sources of the Nile in their approximately correct position, though he pictured the "Nile of the Negroes" as joining the "Egyptian Nile" at that point.

Al-Idrisi gave a detailed description of Spain, where he had spent his student days. He praised Toledo, with its defensible site, fine walls and well-fortified citadel. "Few cities are comparable in the solidity and height of buildings, the beauty of the surrounding country, and the fertility of the lands watered by the Tagus. The gardens of Toledo are laced with canals on which are erected water wheels used in irrigating the orchards, which produce in prodigious quantity fruits of inexpressible beauty and quality. On every side are fine estates and well fortified castles."
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