Statue of Al-Idrisi in Ceuta
Ceuta, (present-day Spain)
|Fields||Geographer, writer, scientist, cartographer|
|Known for||Tabula Rogeriana|
Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi al-Hasani al-Sabti, or simply Al Idrisi // (Arabic: أبو عبد الله محمد الإدريسي القرطبي الحسني السبتي; Latin: Dreses; 1100 – 1165), was a Muslim geographer, cartographer and Egyptologist who lived in Palermo, Sicily at the court of King Roger II. Muhammed al-Idrisi was born in Ceuta, then belonging to the Almoravids.
Al-Idrisi was born in the city of Ceuta, where his great-grandfather had been forced to settle after the fall of Hammudid Málaga to the Zirids of Granada. He spent much of his early life travelling through North Africa and Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain of the times) and seems to have acquired detailed information on both regions. He visited Anatolia when he was barely 16. He studied in Córdoba.
Al-Idrisi incorporated the knowledge of Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Far East gathered by Islamic merchants and explorers and recorded on Islamic maps with the information brought by the Norman voyagers to create the most accurate map of the world in pre-modern times, which served as a concrete illustration of his Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq, (Latin: Opus Geographicum), which may be translated A Diversion for the Man Longing to Travel to Far-Off Places.
The Tabula Rogeriana was drawn by Al-Idrisi in 1154 for the Norman King Roger II of Sicily, after a stay of eighteen years at his court, where he worked on the commentaries and illustrations of the map. The map, with legends written in Arabic, while showing the Eurasian continent in its entirety, only shows the northern part of the African continent and lacks details of the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia.
For Roger it was inscribed on a massive disc of solid silver, two metres in diameter.
On the geographical work of al-Idrisi, S.P. Scott wrote in 1904:
The compilation of Edrisi marks an era in the history of science. Not only is its historical information most interesting and valuable, but its descriptions of many parts of the earth are still authoritative. For three centuries geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes which form the Nile, as delineated in his work, does not differ greatly from that established by Baker and Stanley more than seven hundred years afterwards, and their number is the same. The mechanical genius of the author was not inferior to his erudition. The celestial and terrestrial planisphere of silver which he constructed for his royal patron was nearly six feet in diameter, and weighed four hundred and fifty pounds; upon the one side the zodiac and the constellations, upon the other-divided for convenience into segments-the bodies of land and water, with the respective situations of the various countries, were engraved.
Description of islands in the North Sea
Al-Idrisi in his famous Tabula Rogeriana mentioned Irlandah-al-Kabirah (Great Ireland). According to him, "from the extremity of Iceland to that of Great Ireland," the sailing time was "one day." Although historians note that both al-Idrisi and the Norse tend to understate distances, the only location this reference is thought to have possibly pointed to, must likely have been in Greenland.
Description of Chinese trade
As well as the maps, al-Idrisi produced a compendium of geographical information with the title Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq fi'khtiraq al-'afaq. The title has been translated as The book of pleasant journeys into faraway lands or The pleasure of him who longs to cross the horizons. It has been preserved in nine manuscripts, seven of which contain maps.
The translated title of this work (in the "pleasure of him ..." form) attracted favourable comment from the team selecting lists of names for features expected to be discovered by the New Horizons probe reconnoitring the Pluto system. The Al-Idrisi Montes is a geographical feature in that system named after him.
In the introduction, al-Idrisi mentions two sources for geographical coordinates: Claudius Ptolemy and "an astronomer" that must be Ishaq ibn al-Hasan al-Zayyat; and states that he has cross-checked oral reports from different informers to see if geographical coordinates were consistent.
Publication and translation
An abridged version of the Arabic text was published in Rome in 1592 with title: De geographia universali or Kitāb Nuzhat al-mushtāq fī dhikr al-amṣār wa-al-aqṭār wa-al-buldān wa-al-juzur wa-al-madā’ in wa-al-āfāq which in English would be Recreation of the desirer in the account of cities, regions, countries, islands, towns, and distant lands. This was one of the first Arabic books ever printed. The first translation from the original Arabic was into Latin. The Maronites Gabriel Sionita and Joannes Hesronita translated an abridged version of the text which was published in Paris in 1619 with the rather misleading title of Geographia nubiensis. Not until the middle of the 19th century was a complete translation of the Arabic text published. This was a translation into French by Pierre Amédée Jaubert. More recently sections of the text have been translated for particular regions. Beginning in the 1970 a critical edition of the complete Arabic text was published.
Al-Idrisi's geographical text, Nuzhat al-Mushtaq, is often cited by proponents of pre-Columbian Andalusian-Americas contact theories. In this text, al-Idrisi wrote the following on the Atlantic Ocean:
The Commander of the Muslims Ali ibn Yusuf ibn Tashfin sent his admiral Ahmad ibn Umar, better known under the name of Raqsh al-Auzz to attack a certain island in the Atlantic, but he died before doing that. [...] Beyond this ocean of fogs it is not known what exists there. Nobody has the sure knowledge of it, because it is very difficult to traverse it. Its atmosphere is foggy, its waves are very strong, its dangers are perilous, its beasts are terrible, and its winds are full of tempests. There are many islands, some of which are inhabited, others are submerged. No navigator traverses them but bypasses them remaining near their coast. [...] And it was from the town of Lisbon that the adventurers set out known under the name of Mughamarin [Adventurers], penetrated the ocean of fogs and wanted to know what it contained and where it ended. [...] After sailing for twelve more days they perceived an island that seemed to be inhabited, and there were cultivated fields. They sailed that way to see what it contained. But soon barques encircled them and made them prisoners, and transported them to a miserable hamlet situated on the coast. There they landed. The navigators saw there people with red skin; there was not much hair on their body, the hair of their head was straight, and they were of high stature. Their women were of an extraordinary beauty.
This translation by Professor Muhammad Hamidullah is however questionable, since it reports, after having reached an area of "sticky and stinking waters", the Mugharrarin (also translated as "the adventurers") moved back and first reached an uninhabited island where they found "a huge quantity of sheep the meat of which was bitter and uneatable" and, then, "continued southward" and reached the above reported island where they were soon surrounded by barques and brought to "a village whose inhabitants were often fair-haired with long and flaxen hair and the women of a rare beauty". Among the villagers, one spoke Arabic and asked them where they came from. Then the king of the village ordered them to bring them back to the continent where they were surprised to be welcomed by Berbers.[verification needed]
Apart from the marvellous and fanciful reports of this history, the most probable interpretation is that the Mugharrarin reached the Sargasso Sea, a part of the ocean covered by seaweed, which is very close to Bermuda yet one thousand miles away from the American mainland. Then while coming back, they may have landed either on the Azores, or on Madeira or even on the westernmost Canary Island, El Hierro (because of the sheep). Last, the story with the inhabited island might have occurred either on Tenerife or on Gran Canaria, where the Mugharrarin presumably met some Guanche tribe. This would explain why some of them could speak Arabic (some sporadic contacts had been maintained between the Canary Islands and Morocco) and why they were quickly deported to Morocco where they were welcomed by Berbers. Yet, the story reported by Idrisi is an indisputable account of a certain knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean by Andalusians and Moroccans.
Furthermore, Al-Idrisi writes an account of eight Mugharrarin all from the same family who set sail from Lisbon (Achbona) in the first half of that century and navigated in the seaweed rich seas beyond the Azores.
In popular culture
- Al Idrisi was the main character in Tariq Ali's book entitled A Sultan in Palermo.
- Al Idrisi's ideas on Mare Tenebrarum are alluded to in Pascal Mercier's book entitled Night Train to Lisbon.
- Al-Idrisi's works had a profound influence on European writers such as: Marino Sanuto the Elder, Antonio Malfante, Jaume Ferrer and Alonso Fernández de Lugo.
- The popular IDRISI GIS system, developed by Clark University, is named after Muhammad al-Idrisi
- In 2010, the Government of Mauritius unveiled a planisphere of Al Idrisi at Travellers's Lane, initiated by semiologist Khal Torabully, at the Jardin de la Compagnie, Port-Louis, to pay hommage to the work of the geographer.
Al-Idrisi's map of the northern shoreline of Marmara Region.
Al-Idrisi's description of Finland
Map of the Senegal River according to Al-Idrisi.
- Pierre Herman Leonard Eggermont (1 January 1975). Alexander's Campaigns in Sind and Baluchistan and the Siege of the Brahmin Town of Harmatelia. Peeters Publishers. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-90-6186-037-2.
- Helaine Selin (16 April 2008). Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer. pp. 128–. ISBN 978-1-4020-4559-2.
- Scott, S.P. (1904), History of the Moorish Empire in Europe (Vol. 3), Philadelphia: Lippincott, pp. 461–462
- Title as given by John Dickie, Delizia! The Epic History of the Italians and their Food (New York, 2008) p. 17.
- Dunn, 2009, p. 452.
- Ashe, 1971, p. 48.
- Ahmad 1992
- Levtzion & Hopkins 2000, p. 104
- Ducène, Jean-Charles (2011). "Les coordonnées géographiques de la carte manuscrite d'al-Idrisi". Der Islam. 86: 271–285.
- Horizons, New. "Team". Pluto Name Bank Proposal 2015-07-07. NASA. Retrieved 2015-08-05.
- Ahmad 1960, p. 158.
- Al-Idrisi 1592.
- Sionita & Hesronita 1619.
- Jaubert 1836–1840.
- Al-Idrisi 1970–1984.
- Mohammed Hamidullah (Winter 1968). "Muslim Discovery of America before Columbus", Journal of the Muslim Students' Association of the United States and Canada 4 (2): 7–9 
- Idrisi, Nuzhatul Mushtaq – "La première géographie de l'Occident", comments by Henri Bresc and Annliese Nef, Paris, 1999
- The journal: account of the first voyage and discovery of the Indies, p. 197, at Google Books
- Land to the West: St. Brendan's Voyage to America, p. 135, at Google Books
- Ahmad, S. Maqbul, ed. and trans. (1960), India and the neighbouring territories in the "Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq fi'khtiraq al-'afaq" of al-Sharif al-Idrisi, Leiden: Brill.
- Ahmad, S. Maqbul (1992), "Cartography of al-Sharīf al-Idrīsī", in Harley, J.B.; Woodward, D., The History of Cartography Vol. 2 Book 1: Cartography in the traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies (PDF), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 156–174, ISBN 978-0-226-31635-2.
- Al-Idrisi (1592), De Geographia Universali : Kitāb Nuzhat al-mushtāq fī dhikr al-amṣār wa-al-aqṭār wa-al-buldān wa-al-juzur wa-al-madā' in wa-al-āfāq, Rome: Medici.
- Al-Idrisi (1970–1984), Opus geographicum: sive "Liber ad eorum delectationem qui terras peragrare studeant." (9 Fascicles) (in Arabic), Edited by Bombaci, A. et al., Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale. A critical edition of the Arabic text.
- Jaubert, P. Amédée, trans. & ed. (1836–1840), Géographie d'Édrisi traduite de l'arabe en français d'après deux manuscrits de la Bibliothèque du roi et accompagnée de notes (2 Vols), Paris: L'imprimerie Royale. Géographie d'Édrisi, Volume 1 at Google Books ; Volume 2. Gallica: Volume 1; Volume 2. Complete translation of Nuzhat al-mushtāq fī ikhtirāq al-āfāq into French.
- Levtzion, Nehemia; Hopkins, John F.P., eds. (2000), Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West Africa, New York, NY: Marcus Weiner Press, pp. 104–131, ISBN 1-55876-241-8. First published in 1981. Section on the Maghrib and Sudan from Nuzhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq.
- Sionita, Gabriel; Hesronita, Joannes, trans. & eds. (1619), Geographia nubiensis: id est accuratissima totius orbis in septem climata divisi descriptio, continens praesertim exactam vniuersae Asiae, & Africae, rerumq[ue] in ijs hactenus incognitarum explicationem, Paris: Hieronymi Blageart.
- Beeston, A.F.L. (1950), "Idrisi's Account of the British Isles", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 13 (2): 265–280, doi:10.1017/S0041977X00083464, JSTOR 609275.
- Edrisi (1866), Description de l'Afrique et de l'Espagne, Arabic text with notes and French translation by R. Dozy et M.J. de Goeje, Leiden: E.J. Brill.
- Oman, G. (1971), "Al-Idrīsī", Encyclopaedia of Islam Volume 3 (2nd ed.), Leiden: Brill, pp. 1032–1035.
- Ahmad, S. Maqbul (2008) [1970–80], "Al-Idrīsī, Abū, 'Abd Allāh Muḥ̣ammad Ibn Muḥ̣ammad Ibn 'Abd Allāh Ibn Idrīs, Al-Sharīf Al-Idrīsī", Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Encyclopedia.com.
- Online exhibition, Bibliothèque nationale de France (French)
- Idrisi's world map, Library of Congress. Konrad Miller's 1927 consolidation and transliteration, with high-resolution zoom browser.
- Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries High resolution images of works by al-Idrisi in .jpg and .tiff format.
- IDRISI GIS home page
- "Travels into the Inland Parts of Africa: Containing a Description of the Several Nations for the Space of Six Hundred Miles up the River Gambia" features English translations of work by al-Idrisi. The manuscript dates from 1738.
- Original Nuzhatul Mushtaq text