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Author Topic: AL IDRISI MAP  (Read 3522 times)
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« on: December 05, 2007, 09:14:52 pm »

To carry out the project, Roger established an academy of geographers, with himself as director and al-Idrisi as permanent secretary, to gather and sift information. He wanted to know the precise conditions of every area under his rule, and of the world outside—its boundaries, climate, roads, the rivers that watered its lands, the seas that bathed its coasts.

The academy began by studying and comparing the works of previous geographers—principal among them 12 scholars, 10 of them from the Muslim world.

The reason behind the Muslim domination of the field of geography was simple: economics. While medieval Europe had become fragmented and parochial, both politically and commercially, the Muslim world was unified by a flourishing long-distance commerce as well as by religion and culture. Muslim merchants, pilgrims and officials used so-called "road books," itineraries that described routes, traveling conditions and cities along the way. Some of the early authors of road books were on al-Idrisi's list: Ibn Khurdadhbih, an eighth-century Persian who was director of the postal and intelligence service in Iran; al-Yaqubi, an Armenian who in the ninth century wrote a Book of Countries; Qudamah, a 10th-century Christian who had embraced Islam, served as a tax accountant at Baghdad and written a book discussing the postal and tax systems of the Abbasid Caliphate. Others belonged to a later tradition of systematic geography, like the 10th-century scholars Ibn Hawqal and al-Mas'udi, who produced books intended as something more than practical guides for the tax collector or the postman: as additions to the fund of human knowledge.

Al-Idrisi's two geographers from the pre-Islamic era were Paulus Orosius, a Spaniard whose popular History, written in the fifth century, included a volume of descriptive geography; and Ptolemy, the greatest of the classical geographers, whose Geography, written in the second century, had been entirely lost to Europe, but preserved in the Muslim world in an Arabic translation.

After examining at length the geographical works they had collected, the king and the geographer observed that they were full of discrepancies and omissions, and decided to embark on original research. Sicily's busy and cosmopolitan ports provided an ideal place for such an inquiry, and for years hardly a ship docked at Palermo, Messina, Catania or Syracuse without its crew and passengers being interrogated about the places they had visited. The commission's agents haunted the ports, and if they discovered a traveler who had visited any particularly exotic region, he was conducted to the palace at Palermo to be questioned by al-Idrisi or even by Roger. What was the climate of the country, its rivers and lakes, mountains, coastal configurations and soil? What of its roads, buildings, monuments, crops, crafts, imports, exports and marvels? What, finally, were its culture, religion, customs and language? In addition, scientific expeditions were dispatched to areas on which information was lacking. These expeditions were accompanied by draftsmen and cartographers so that a visual record of the country could be made.
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