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Author: admin, 31.10.2014
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. The resulting book and associated maps which took 15 years to amass are, for this and the above reasons, unquestionably among the most interesting monuments of Arabian geography. Modern geographers have attempted to reconstruct the features of the silver planisphere by using a combination of the maps of Roger’s Book, which has survived in several texts, and its tables of longitudes and latitudes. 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.
Al-Idrisi presented the planisphere, a silver celestial sphere and the book to his patron in 1154, just a few weeks before Roger died at 58, probably of a heart attack; he went on to compose another geographical work for William I, Roger’s successor.
In 1160, however, Sicilian barons rose in rebellion against William and during the disorders looted the palace; in a great fire in the courtyard, they burned government records, books and documents—including a new Latin edition of Roger’s Book which al-Idrisi had presented to William.


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. This process of collecting and assessing material took 15 years, during which, according to al-Idrisi, hardly a day passed when the king did not confer personally with the geographers, studying accounts that disagreed, examining astronomical coordinates, tables and itineraries, poring over books and weighing divergent opinions.
The Strait of Gibraltar, according to Roger’s Book, did not exist when Alexander the Great—as medieval legend had it—invaded Spain. Although the Arabic text of Roger’s Book was published in Rome by the Medici press in 1592, it was not again available to Europeans in Latin until the 17th century. 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. Muslim merchants, pilgrims and officials used so-called “road books”, itineraries that described routes, traveling conditions and cities along the way.


No large mammals are indigenous to the Azores, and sheep or goats could only have been brought to the island by previous mariners. Others belonged to a later tradition of systematic geography, like the 10th century scholars Ibn Hawqal (#213) and al-Mas’udi (#212), 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. Not surprisingly, the best part of both map and text, accurate and detailed, dealt with Sicily itself.



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