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Tag: Cairo


The City of the Dead

Although I’m still in India, I’m listing a link here of an article I wrote about Cairo’s amazing cemetery in which zillions of people live…



I have already mentioned in passing a number of Arab inventions from the Golden Age. They include a wide range of medical, chemical and astronomical devices. But there are whole other areas in which the Arabs inventors excelled.

         Arab engineers learned from the Romans, Greeks and from their own scientists, and came up with creations that demonstrated their astonishing ingenuity. Some of these creations improved living conditions, while others were more whimsical.

         Engineers were hugely important. When the tenth century Persian engineer and polymath, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), reached Cairo, the Caliph himself went to the gates to greet him. He had been invited to regulate the flooding on the Nile. It soon dawned on him that he couldn’t solve the problem. The only way to save his neck was to feign madness and live for years under house arrest… biding his time until the Caliph’s own death.




The lightning spread of Islam by the eighth century – from Iberia to modern Afghanistan and beyond, led to a huge reappraisal of geography. New information was flooding into research centres in Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Cordoba and elsewhere, and new technology (such as quadrants and astrolabes) was used to create ever-more accurate maps.

         The greatest was Al-Idrisi’s twelfth century atlas, prepared for the Norman King Roger II of Sicily (in 1154 AD), incorporated Africa, Europe, Asia minor, India and the known stretches of the Far East. It was the first atlas of its kind and took 18 years to produce.




Vast Libraries

Magnificent libraries were made possible by the price of cheap paper, and by the growing literacy because people were required to read and write the Qur’an. An example was the Royal library in 10th century Cordoba, assembled under the patronage of Caliph al-Hakim II, which boasted 400,000 books. The library’s directory stretched to 44 huge ledgers. Caliph al-Hakim II sent scholars across the East to buy and have copied important books, and in so doing, added to the expansion of knowledge. The library at Cairo supposedly had two million volumes; and the one at Tripoli had three million, before it was destroyed by Crusaders. We can only imagine the extent of the House of Wisdom’s great library before it was sacked. It must have run into the millions of documents as well. It is said that when it was sacked in 1258 by the Mongol Horde, that the Tigris ran black with ink for six entire months.