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DESCRIPTION: During the Middle Ages the Greek tradition of disinterested research was stifled in Western Europe by a theological dictatorship which bade fair, for a time, to destroy all hope of a genuine intellectual revival. Most Arab cartographers also used Ptolemya€™s instructions in the construction of their own maps.
Over the years, these enlightened Arabs injected new life and a storehouse of knowledge into the relatively backward science of Western Europe, and, for centuries, Arab culture actually dominated the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily.
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. The monarch was Roger II, King of Sicily; his distinguished guest the Arab geographer Abu Abdullah Mohammed Ibn al-Sharif al-Idrisi [Edrisi].
Al-Idrisia€™s writings tell us less about his own character and personality than about those of the man who became his host and patron. Sicily in particular was an ideal meeting ground for the two civilizations a€“ Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East. 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 da€™Hauteville capped his career by conquering Sicily.
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.
Rogera€™s interest in geography was the expression of a scientific curiosity just awakening in Europe, but inevitably he turned to a Muslim for help. A few practical maps did exista€”marinersa€™ charts showing coastlines, capes, bays, shallows, ports of call and watering and provisioning placesa€”but in a typical medieval divorce of science and technology, these remained in the hands of navigators. To carry out the project, Roger established an academy of geographers, with himself as director and al-Idrisi as permanent secretary, to gather and analyze information.
The academy began by studying and comparing the works of previous geographersa€”principal among them 12 scholars, 10 of them from the Muslim world. Al-Idrisia€™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.
During this research, al-Idrisi and Roger compared data, keeping the facts on which travelers agreed and eliminating conflicting information. Finally, however, the long 15-year geographical study was finished and the task of map making began. Al-Idrisi explained that the disk merely symbolized the shape of the world: The earth is round like a sphere, and the waters adhere to it and are maintained on it through natural equilibrium which suffers no variation.
By al-Idrisia€™s time, Muslim astronomers had made great strides in methods of reckoning latitude.
Al-Idrisi himself gave three figures for the eartha€™s circumference, without deciding among them: Eratosthenesa€™ approximately correct estimate, a slightly smaller figure arrived at by Indian astronomers, and a still smaller numbera€”though larger than Ptolemya€™sa€”which was apparently agreed on by Sicilian scholars. On the disk, according to al-Idrisia€™s own account, were incised a€?by skillful workersa€? lines marking the limits of the seven climates of the habitable world, arbitrary divisions established by Ptolemy running east and west and bounded by parallels of latitude, from the Arctic to the Equator.
The map, written in Arabic, shows the Eurasian continent in its entirety, but only shows the northern part of the African continent.
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 Rogera€™s Book, which has survived in several texts, and its tables of longitudes and latitudes. Distortions, omissions, and misconceptions notwithstanding, the superiority of al-Idrisia€™s map over the world maps of medieval Europe is striking.
The first division of the first climate commences to the west of the Western Sea, which Idrisi called the Sea of Darkness. Following the Nile, still eastward, we find the nomadic Berbers who pasture their flock on the borders of a river flowing from the east, debouching into the Nile stream. It is clear that the part of southern Africa which is extended far to the east is a legacy from Ptolemy, but Arabian seafarers had taught Idrisi that the sea was open in the east, and in his own commentaries he writes: a€?The Sea of Sin [China] is an arm of the ocean which is called the Dark Sea [the Atlantic]a€?. To the south al-Idrisi pictured a great river, the Nile of the Negroes, a composite of the Senegal and the Niger Rivers that flowed from Central Africa west to the Atlantic. Sicily, naturally, came in for special praise; it was a pearl of the age, and al-Idrisi told the story of the Norman conquest of the island by Roger da€™Hauteville, the greatest of Frankish princes, followed by the succession of the great king who bears the same name and who follows in his footsteps. Idrisi was not, however, able to put the countries around the Baltic into proper shape, even though his notes show him to have been familiar with a great many places there, as in the rest of Europe. The impressive assemblage of facts from travelersa€™ accounts and geographical writings was interrupted now and then by fables, some taken directly from Ptolemy, some from popular folklore. Al-Idrisia€™s Rome had an oriental magnificence; ships with their freight sailed up the Tiber to be drawn thus loaded right up to the very shops of the merchants.
The Arabs knew these islands through Ptolemy, and called them Jazaa€™ir al-Khalidat [The Eternal Isles], presumably a version of the Greek name.
After telling us that the Canaries had been visited by Alexander the Great and that the tomb of a pre-Islamic South Arabian king, made of marble and colored glass, can be seen on one of them, al-Idrisi gives the names of two of the islands. Even more interesting is al-Idrisia€™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 a€?intrepid explorers.a€? The expedition must have taken place before 1147 - the date Lisbon fell to the Christians - but it is impossible to be more precise.
It was from the city of Lisbon that the mugharrirun set out to sail the Sea of Darkness in order to discover what was in it and where it ended, as we have mentioned before. The inhabitants of the island of al-Sua€™ali are shaped like women and their canine teeth protrude.
The island of Qalhan is inhabited by animal-headed people who swim in the sea to catch their food. Al-Ghawr makes sense; it means a depression surrounded by higher land, and occurs elsewhere in the Arab world as a place name. Al-Idrisi gives the names of 13 islands in the western Atlantic; a 14th, visited by the mugharrirun, is nameless. On his map, Idrisi shows a long string of islands in the Western Ocean reaching north from the equator to Brittany.
However, Arab geographers and astronomers were much too accurate in their latitude calculations to mistakenly spread the Canary Islands so widely over the ocean. The three intermediate islands in the chain may be the first cartographic representation of the Azores.
Idrisia€™s description of other islands in the Atlantic appear to have more to do with fanciful legends than with reality. Some of these islands resemble the islands of Irish legend, and the Arabs may have incorporated parts of the Celtic tradition into their own legends.
At the latitude of Tangier, in the Grand Sea, there are situated islands named a€?The Fortunate Islands.a€? These are spread in the sea, not far away from the west coast [of Africa], the Barbary Coast. 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, Rogera€™s successor. According to Arab sources, Idrisi composed yet another more detailed text and map in 1161 for Rogera€™s son William II. 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 documentsa€”including a new Latin edition of Rogera€™s Book which al-Idrisi had presented to William. Since the barons had attacked the Muslims of Sicily with particular ferocitya€”killing, among many others, a famous poet named Yahya ibn al-Tifashia€”al-Idrisi fled to North Africa where, six years later, he died.
As he had brought the Arabic text with him, however, his great work lived on, winning widespread fame, serving as a model for Muslim geographers and historians for centuries and providing the great Muslim historian, Ibn Khaldun, with practically all his geographical knowledge. It is a curious thought that had Columbus been aware of the true distancea€”from al-Idrisia€™s estimatesa€”he might have hesitated to undertake his epoch-making voyage and might never have discovered that new world which came to light one morning on the far side of the Sea of Darkness. Idrisia€™s works are of exceptional quality when considered in comparison with other geographical writings of their period, partly by reason of their richness of detail, but mainly because of the afore mentioned a€?scientific methoda€™ that was employed, a procedure which was indeed unlike that adopted by most Latin scholars of that era. There is, however, a markedly retrograde character to certain portions of his work, such as East Africa and South Asia; despite his narrative of the Lisbon Wanderers (see above and Beazely, vol. In view of its modernity and high intrinsic worth, it is difficult to understand why Idrisia€™s work, composed as it was at the chronological and geographical point of contact between the Islamic and Christian civilizations, remained so long un-utilized by Christian scholars in Sicily, Italy, or other Christian countries, until we remember that the primary - we might even say the sole - interest of the Latin West in Arabic literature centered on the preparation of calendars, star tables and horoscopes, and, to some extent, the recovery of ancient lore. Al-Idrisia€™s map places Gog and Magog in northern China, behind a great wall with a tower and a door; at the wall is an inscription, translated as a€?belongs to the Kufaya mountain range which encloses Gog and Magoga€?. The first translation known of Idrisia€™s work was published in Rome only in 1619, and then in a very much shortened form (the translator did not even know the authora€™s name).
On the other hand, there is no question but that the Sicilo-Norman enthusiasm for geography exerted an indirect influence on the evolution of geographical knowledge, an influence that was to make itself felt more especially after the close of the Crusades period.
Detail of the a€?The large Idrisi Mapa€? showing Europe and North Africa,a€? re-oriented with North at the top.
Reproduction and re-orientation of a map of the world adapted from the Muqaddimah [Introduction] to Ibn Khalduna€™s monumental work, The History of the World, 1381; derived from the 1154 al-Idrisi map. With this basis the Muslims combined the accumulated knowledge gained through exploration and travel. 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.
Born in Ceuta, Morocco, across the strait from Spain, al-Idrisi was then in his late 30a€™s. 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. Captured by the Arabs in 831, the island had remained in Muslim control until the end of the 11th century.
Four years later, he passed the territory on to his son, Roger, who in 1130 was crowned king as Roger II. His energy was a legenda€”one commentator remarked that Roger accomplished more asleep than other sovereigns did awakea€”and his court boasted a collection of philosophers, mathematicians, doctors, geographers and poets who had no superior in Europea€”and in whose company he spent much of his time. Christian Europea€™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. He wanted to know the precise conditions of every area under his rule, and of the world outsidea€”its boundaries, climate, roads, the rivers that watered its lands, and the seas that bathed its coasts.
Sicilya€™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. 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.
First, under al-Idrisia€™s direction, a working copy was produced on a drawing board, with places sited on the map with compasses, following the tables that had already been prepared. Although Ptolemy had discussed several kinds of projection (Book I, #119), the problem of flattening out the surface of a sphere so that it could be represented on a flat map would not be solved until the 16th and 17th centuriesa€”the Age of Explorationa€”and none too satisfactorily even then. Zach states in 1806 that a€?the oldest terrestrial globe that is known was made for King Roger II of Sicily in the 12th century, and is especially remarkable for the value of the metal which was used in its construction, this being 400 pounds of silver. Below the Equator, an unexplored southern temperate zone was thought to be separated from the familiar northern one by an impassable area of deadly heat.

Two are in the BibliothA?que Nationale de France, including the oldest, dated to about 1300 (MS Arabe 2221). From this reconstruction it is evident that, like Ptolemy, al-Idrisi pictured the habitable world as occupying 180 of the 360 degrees of the worlda€™s longitude, from the Atlantic in the West to China in the East, and 64 degrees of its latitude, from the Arctic Ocean to the Equator.
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-Idrisia€™s representationa€”Britain, Ireland, Spain, Italy, the Red Sea and the Nile.
He had no doubt met travelers and merchants from Scandinavia at the court of King Roger and received important information from them, but we know that the Arabs too had connections with the Baltic peoples and also those in Russia at that time. In Russia, winter daylight periods were so short that there was hardly time for Muslim travelers to perform all five obligatory daily prayers. Paris (Abariz) earned a condescending reference as a town of mediocre size, surrounded by vineyards and forests, situated on an island in the Seine, which surrounds it on all sides; however, it is extremely agreeable, strong, and susceptible of defense. The Strait of Gibraltar, according to Rogera€™s Book, did not exist when Alexander the Greata€”as medieval legend had ita€”invaded Spain. Discovered by Hanno in the fifth century BC, they were explored and colonized in 25 BC by Juba II, erudite king of Mauretania and husband of Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Antony and Cleopatra. Some sources speak of these islands as if they were legendary, telling us for example that on each of the six islands - there are in fact seven - there was a bronze statue, like the one in CA?diz, warning voyagers to turn back.
The mugharrirun were so famous for their exploit that a street in Lisbon was named after them. A street in Lisbon, near the hot springs, is still known as a€?The Street of the Intrepid Explorersa€?; it is named after them. It is hard to escape the impression that we owe the preservation of this account largely to the folk etymology in the last line. The Azores are named after a kind of goshawk - in Portuguese, aA§or - prevalent there at the time of discovery. The inhabitants threw stones at the travelers and hurt several of Alexandera€™s companions. A small fresh-water river runs down from the foot of the mountain, where the inhabitants live.
Al-Mustashkin is probably a corruption of al-mushtakin, meaning a€?the complainersa€? - appropriate enough for a population in thrall to a dragon. The Two Brothers could be the two small islands off Lanzarote in the Canaries, Alegranza and Graciosa, or indeed, any two prominent rocks off their coasts.
This unnamed island, together with Masfahan, Laghus, The Two Brothers and possibly Sawa, are almost certainly islands in the Canary group. After describing the Canary Islands, Idrisi refers to an island in the Western Sea named Raqa, which is the Isle of the Birds, Djaziratoa€™t-Toyour. Distinct from the Canary Islands were the Isle of Female Devils, the Isle of Illusion, the Island of Two Sorcerers, and the Isle of Lamentation [Gazirat al-Mustashkin], which was inhabited and fertile, with tilled fields, but controlled by a terrible dragon. An exchange of ideas and reciprocal influences between the two cultures certainly took place.
This work is said to have been even more extensive than his earlier one, but only a few extracts have survived. At the same time, the silver planisphere and celestial sphere disappeared, apparently cut up and melted down. Although the Arabic text of Rogera€™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. Certainly the influence of Idrisia€™s Geography could not have been great in the world of letters or else traces of it would more easily be detected in Western literature.
An explicit reference to Dul-Karnaia€™in (an Arabic name for Alexander, among others) by the gate, leaves no doubt as to Idrisia€™s source. Displays a Ptolemaic construction with an arrangement of horizontal divisions into seven parallel climate zones, originally oriented with South at the top. 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 accuratea€”and scientifica€”map of the entire known world. After studying in Cordoba, in Muslim Spain, he had spent some years in travel, covering the length of the Mediterranean, from Lisbon to Damascus.
His co-religionists, commenting on his oriental life-style, complete with harem and eunuchs, disparagingly referred to him as the a€?half-heathen kinga€? and a€?the baptized Sultan of Sicily.a€? 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.
Like Muslim Spain, it was a beacon of prosperity to a Europe caught in the economic slow-down we call the Dark Ages. In mathematics, as in the political sphere, al-Idrisi wrote of his patron, the extent of his learning cannot be described.
Picturesque and colorful, European maps showed a circular earth composed of three continents equal in sizea€”Asia, Africa and Europea€”separated by narrow bands of water.
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. The commissiona€™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. Then a great disk almost 80 inches in diameter and weighing over 300 pounds was fabricated out of silver, chosen for its malleability and permanence. The great geographer Gerardus Mercator commented, If you wish to sail from one port to another, here is a chart .
A knowledge of this globe would not have come down to our day had not Idrisi, a famous geographer of that time, given an especial description of the same, under the title Nothatol mostak [Pleasure of the Soul].a€? According to other scholars it is more probable that the reference here is to a circular disc or planisphere made by Idrisi, or an armillary sphere, but not to a terrestrial globe.
Following the rough sketch prepared by al-Idrisi, the silversmiths transferred the outlines of countries, oceans, rivers, gulfs, peninsulas and islands to the planisphere. The planisphere showed the sources of the Nilea€”not explored by Europeans until the 19th century, but evidently known to 12th century Muslim travelersa€”and the cities of central 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.
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 Norwegians had to harvest their grain when it was still green and dry it at their hearths since the sun shines very rarely upon them. Because the inhabitants of Africa and Europe waged continual warfare, Alexander decided to separate them by a canal, which he cut between Tangier and al-Andalus (southern Spain).
A passionate art collector, Juba was also interested in science and technology, inventing a new method of making purple dye from the orchil plant - and the export of orchil from the Atlantic islands was of economic importance until early this century. But al-Idrisi tells of an attempted expedition to the Canaries in the late 12th century, during the reign of the Almoravid amir Yusuf ibn Tashafin.
This is probably Tenerife, and the round mountain would be the 3,600-meter-high (12,000-foot) volcano called Pico de Teide.
Eighty men, all ordinary people, got together and built a large ship and stocked it with enough food and water for several months. The sheep are a problem, for the Azores were uninhabited when settled in the 15th century, and even if we slightly stretch the meaning of the word ghanam, which can also mean a€?goats,a€? we are still left with the problem of the origin of the creatures. There are many rivers and pools, and thickets where donkeys and long-horned cattle take refuge. There used to be a dragon in the area, and the people were forced to feed it with bulls, donkeys or even humans, according to the legend; when Alexander arrived, the people complained to him of the dragona€™s depredations. Al-Sa€™ali is a word that refers to a kind of female demon or vampire; judging by al-Idrisia€™s description of the female inhabitants of the island, it is apt. This story of Alexander and the dragon echoes the Eleventh Labor of Hercules, the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, guarded by the dragon Ladon. It could be argued that the first six islands, spread over three entire climate zones between the equator and the Strait of Gibraltar, represent the six known Canary Islands, forced into this north-south alignment by the physical constraints of the circular map with its narrow band of the Surrounding Ocean.
The first two islands are the Canary Islands, properly shown in the first climate zone and carried forward from Ptolemya€™s map as the Fortunate Islands or Islands of the Blest.
This story may be a borrowing from Greek mythology, where a dragon guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides. In the 1400a€™s, therefore, Christopher Columbus had to rely on other sources of information. Unlike a multitude of Arabic writings of far less intrinsic value, the Rogerian Description found no Gerard of Cremona (translator of Ptolemy into Latin) to put it into Latin, and the authoritative geographical knowledge of the Western world was destined to develop unenriched by the treasures which Roger and Idrisi together had amassed.
Gog and Magog appeared on Arabian maps as Yajoj wa Majoj from the 10th century; they appear on Al-Idrisia€™s map of 1154 under the same names.
The climate numbers are given along the vertical axis, and the ten longitudinal divisions are given across the top.
The text was accompanied by 71 part maps, a world map and 70 sectional itinerary maps, representing the seven climates each divided longitudinally into 10 sections. 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. The occupying Arabs had built dams, irrigation systems, reservoirs and water towers, introduced new cropsa€”oranges and lemons, cotton, date palms, ricea€”and exploited the islanda€™s mines and fishing grounds. Nor is there any limit to his knowledge of the sciences, so deeply and wisely has he studied them in every particular. The Garden of Eden and Paradise were at the top and Jerusalem at the center, while fabulous monsters occupied the unexplored regionsa€”Sirens, dragons, men with dogsa€™ heads, men with feet shaped like umbrellas with which they protected themselves from the sun while lying down (see #205, #207, #224, #226). The mission he entrusted to al-Idrisi was intellectually Herculean: to collect and evaluate all available geographical knowledgea€”from books and from on-the-spot observersa€”and to organize it into an accurate and meaningful representation of the world. Muslim merchants, pilgrims and officials used so-called a€?road booksa€?, itineraries that described routes, traveling conditions and cities along the way. What was the climate of the country, its rivers and lakes, mountains, coastal configurations and soil? All creatures are stable on the surface of the earth, the air attracting what is light, the earth what is heavy, as the magnet attracts iron. The mathematician al-Khwarizmi reduced Ptolemya€™s estimate of the length of the Mediterranean Sea from 62 to 52 degrees; the Spanish Muslim astronomer al-Zarqali further adjusted the figure to the correct 42 degrees. Roger II of Sicily had his world map drawn on a six-foot diameter circle of silver weighing about 450 pounds. The Baltic area and Poland were represented much more precisely than on Ptolemya€™s maps, showing the fruit of the geographersa€™ investigations.
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. 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. Juba populated the Canaries with Berber-speaking colonists, perhaps the ancestors of the Guanches. The admiral in charge of the expedition died just as it was about to set out, so the venture came to nothing.

Then they set sail with the first gentle easterly and sailed for about eleven daya€™s, until they came to a sea with heavy waves, evil-smelling, ridden with reefs and with very little light. The a€?sea with heavy waves, evil-smelling, ridden with reefs and with very little lighta€? can probably be ignored, for the passage is influenced by the a€?land of darknessa€? thought to exist in the farthest West, and the reefs may echo a passage in Platoa€™s Timeus which speaks of the shallows in the Atlantic marking the site where Atlantis sank. No large mammals are indigenous to the Azores, and sheep or goats could only have been brought to the island by previous mariners. In the Arabic-speaking world, popular legend transferred a number of the heroic deeds of Hercules to Alexander - including the building of a land bridge across the Pillars of Hercules. The wood is deep black, and merchants come to the island to harvest it and then sell it to the kings of the farthest West. The same linear arrangement of islands appears on 14th century maps such as the 1351Laurentian portolano (Book III, #233), and, a full century later, on the Bartolomeo Pareto map (1455), since it was still impossible to determine longitude. The sixth island, shown opposite the entrance to the Mediterranean, would be al-Ghanam [Island of Sheep], Madeira. I think that Babcock comes close, but, rather than the cormorant, the bird referred to is the goshawk [Afar], a species of hawk that closely resembles an eagle and abounds in the Azores, and from which the entire archipelago gets its name. On the Island of Two Heathen Brothers, two pirates lived until they were turned into rocks, and the inhabitants of the Island of Kalhan had the bodies of men and the heads of animals. Using a globe prepared by a German cartographer named Martin Behaim (Book III, #258), based on Ptolemya€™s miscalculations, Columbus also added in Marco Poloa€™s equally misleading estimates of distances and concluded, incorrectly, that by sailing west from Spain he could reach Japan or India after no more than a 4,000 mile voyage.
The consecutive numbers sometimes used to refer to the sectional maps are shown in the upper right corner of each section. He is responsible for singular innovations and for marvelous inventions, such as no prince has ever before realized.
His purpose was partly practical, but mostly scientific: to produce a work that would sum up all the contemporary knowledge of the physical world. Other Muslim scholars, like the Iraqi astronomer al-Battani and the Persian al-Biruni (#214.3), composed tables giving the latitudes of leading cities. The works of Al-Idrisi include Nozhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq - a compendium of the geographic and sociological knowledge of his time as well as descriptions of his own travels illustrated with over seventy maps; Kharitat al-`alam al-ma`mour min al-ard [Map of the inhabited regions of the earth] wherein he divided the world into seven regions, the first extending from the equator to 23 degrees latitude, and the seventh being from 54 to 63 degrees followed by a region uninhabitable due to cold and snow.
The British Isles also were treated with a surprising insight, probably due to contacts between Norman England and Norman Sicily. It is a considerable island, whose shape is that of the head of an ostrich, and where there are flourishing towns, high mountains, great rivers and plains. Gradually, knowledge of the location of the Canaries was lost, even though Lanzarote, the island nearest the North African coast, lies less than 100 kilometers [60 miles] west of the mainland. Al-ldrisi says the admirala€™s curiosity was aroused by smoke rising from the sea in the west, probably the result of volcanic activity.
Neither name is Arabic, nor do they appear to be transcriptions of Greek, Latin or Romance - but the fact that these two islands had names at all means mariners must have visited them, and the names are either native designations or hark back to some lost, perhaps oral, source. They were sure they were about to perish, so they changed course to the south and sailed for twelve days, until they came to Sheep Island, There were so many sheep it was impossible to count them, and they ranged freely, with no one to watch them.
The Azores lie almost 1,300 kilometers (about 800 miles) west of the coast of Portugal - one-third of the way to America. Some Greek mythographers thought the Islands of the Hesperides lay off the coast of North Africa, and we have already seen how al-Idrisi associates Alexander with two of the Atlantic islands. The island is said to have been inhabited in the past, but it fell to ruin and serpents infested the land. Al-Sua€™ali and al-Mustashkin both sound completely legendary, but there is nothing legendary about Hasran and Qalhan, which sound as if they might belong together.
During the period of rediscovery of the Azores under Prince Henry the Navigator, these birds were supposedly responsible for guiding the sailors to these distant islands.
According to one historian, friendly relations were established between the Sultan of Spain and the invaders. Others belonged to a later tradition of systematic geography, like the 10th century scholars Ibn Hawqal (#213) and al-Masa€™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. An element of subjectivity entered into the fact that southern Italy was represented as larger than the north, and that Sicily occupied a substantial part of the Western Mediterranean, in contrast to Sardinia and Corsica, which shrank in scale.
This country is most fertile; its inhabitants are brave, active and enterprising, but all is in the grip of perpetual winter. The Greeks called the Canary Islands TA?n MakarA?n NA“soi [The Islands of the Blessed], and they were regarded as the furthest known land to the west.
In another passage al-Idrisi gives more details of this island - incidentally showing that a longer account of the voyage of the mugharrirun must have existed. In the 19th century, Carthaginian coins were found on the most westerly of the islands, Corvo - 31A° west longitude - and although the find has been questioned, the origin of the coins has never been satisfactorily explained. But if the word is Arabic, one would expect it to be preceded by the definite article a€?ala€?. Since the only inhabited islands in the western Atlantic just before the coming of the Europeans were the Canaries, Hasran may belong to that groupa€”unless, of course, it is to be sought in the Caribbean! If the isle of Raqa is indeed one of the Azores, then the discovery of these islands occurred as early as the 10th century. In addition, scientific expeditions were dispatched to areas on which information was lacking.
Contrary to a still popular misconception that up to the time of Columbus everyone believed the world was flat, many scholars and astronomers since at least the fifth century B.C. Not surprisingly, the best part of both map and text, accurate and detailed, dealt with Sicily itself.
It forms an island 300 miles long by 150 miles wide: this is surrounded by the Nile on all sides and at all seasons . Al-Idrisi gave the names of many English towns, principally ports, with the distances between them. They caught some of the sheep and slaughtered them, but the flesh was so bitter they could not eat it. He says Sheep Island is large, shrouded in shadows, and filled with small sheep whose flesh is bitter and inedible. Corvo is marked on the Canterino map of 1351, where the name occurs as Corvini - considerably before its official discovery.
Draftsmen and cartographers accompanied these expeditions so that a visual record of the country could be made. The greater part of the country is only habitable on the borders of the Nile for the rest of the country .
Hastings was a considerable town, densely populated, with many buildings, markets, much industry and commerce; Dover, to the east, was an equally important town not far from the mouth of the river of London, the broad and swiftly flowing Thames.
In 1402 the Normans partially conquered them, meeting stiff resistance from the indigenous Guanches. They took some sheepskins and sailed on to the south for another twelve days until they sighted an island.
Nearby is another island, called Raqa, which is the home of a red bird the size of an eagle, which catches fish in its claws and never flies far from the island.
Certain adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, from Tales of the Arabian Nights, are almost identical to those of Saint Brendan.
You may get there sooner or you may not get there as soon as you expected, but you will certainly get there.
In the mid-15th century, the Spanish took control of the Canaries and continued the conquest. The settlers quickly burned down all the forests, so it is now hard to know for certain, but some sort of scented wood may have once grown there. But whether the Irish borrowed these myths from the Arabs, or vice versa, or if they both obtained them from an earlier common source is a matter of conjecture. Al-Idrisia€™s silver disk, or planisphere, was a form of projection considerably in advance of others of its time. Fighting was still going on when Columbus used the islands as the first stop on all four of his voyages to the Caribbean.
They headed toward it in order to explore and when they were not far offshore, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by boats, which forced their ship to land beside a city on the shore.
A king of the Franks heard of this, al-Idrisi adds, and sent a ship to the island to bring him that fruit and some of the birds, but the ship was lost and never returned. The Guanches were not finally subdued until the end of the 16th century, when they and their language virtually disappeared. They saw the men who lived there; they were light-complexioned, with very little facial hair. And in the ninth century, 70 Muslim scholars, working under the patronage of Caliph al-Maa€™mun, gathered in the Syrian Desert to determine the length of a degree of latitude. There are arid wastes where one must walk two, four, five, or twelve days before finding water .
From the few words of Guanche preserved in the Spanish chronicles, we know they spoke a form of Berber, and were therefore probably descended from Jubaa€™s colonists. Rather than rely on travelersa€™ guesses of distance, as previous astronomers had done, they used wooden rods to measure the road they traveled until they saw a change of one degree in the elevation of the polestar. Yet when Europeans encountered them, they had no memory of the mainland; having no boats, they were unaware that the other islands in the group were inhabited.
Their calculation resulted in a figure for the eartha€™s circumference equivalent to 22,422 miles, an error of 3.6 percent, almost as accurate as Eratosthenesa€™ estimate and a considerable improvement over Ptolemya€™s.
On the fourth day a man who spoke Arabic entered and asked them who they were and where they were going and what was the name of their country. They told him everything and he said not to worry, and that he was the kinga€™s interpreter. The next day they were taken into the kinga€™s presence and he asked the same questions they had been asked by the interpreter.
They told him what they had told the interpreter the day before, of how they had embarked upon the ocean in order to find out about it and see the wonders it contained, and how they had come to this place. When dawn broke and the sun rose, we found we were in great pain because we had been so tightly bound. One of them asked us: a€?Do you know how far you are from your country?a€™ a€?No,a€™ we answered.

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