Yossef Rapoport – Lost Maps of the Caliphs: Drawing the World in Eleventh-Century Cairo

Event Date: 7 March 2019
Royal Asiatic Society
14 Stephenson Way
London NW1 2HD

 

The Royal Asiatic Society presents:

Dr. Yossef Rapoport (Queen Mary, UoL) – Lost Maps of the Caliphs: Drawing the World in Eleventh-Century Cairo – Lecture and Book Launch

About a millennium ago, an unknown author in Cairo completed a large and richly illustrated book. In the course of thirty-five chapters, this book guided the reader on a journey from the outermost cosmos and planets to Earth and its lands, islands, features and inhabitants. This treatise, known as The Book of Curiosities, was unknown to modern scholars until a remarkable manuscript copy was discovered in 2000.

LOST MAPS OF THE CALIPHS opens with an account of the extraordinary discovery of the manuscript and its purchase by the Bodleian Library. The authors then use The Book of Curiosities to re-evaluate the development of astrology, geography and cartography in the first four centuries of Islam. Their account assesses the transmission of Late Antique geography to the Islamic world, unearths the logic behind abstract maritime diagrams, and considers the palaces and walls that dominate medieval Islamic plans of towns and ports. Early astronomical maps and drawings demonstrate the medieval understanding of the structure of the cosmos and illustrate the pervasive assumption that almost any visible celestial event had an effect upon life on Earth. LOST MAPS OF THE CALIPHS also reconsiders the history of global communication networks at the turn of the previous millennium. It shows the Fatimid Empire, and its capital Cairo, as a global maritime power, with tentacles spanning the eastern Mediterranean to the Indus Valley and the East African coast.

As LOST MAPS OF THE CALIPHS makes clear, not only is The Book of Curiosities one of the greatest achievements of medieval mapmaking, it is also a remarkable contribution to the story of Islamic civilization that opens an unexpected window to the medieval Islamic view of the world.

“With its focus on eleventh-century Fatimid Cairo, Lost Maps of the Caliphs reinterprets early Islamic apprehensions of the earth and the heavens, while reorienting our modern understanding of medieval Arabic map-making and its part in the transmission of Late Antique cartographic knowledge. A remarkable and important book of dazzling scholarship.” —Jerry Brotton, author of A History of the World in Twelve Maps

“The two authors, Savage-Smith on the heavens and Rapoport on the earth, explain The Book of Curiosities with exemplary scholarship and lucidity. Like the manuscript itself, this companion volume vastly enhances our understanding of the classical Arabic worldview in all its rich complexity.” —Hugh N. Kennedy, SOAS, University of London

“Lost Maps of the Caliphs is organized along the lines of the original manuscript, and exceptionally well documented, using a dazzling range of sources in an equally dazzling range of languages. The result is totally fascinating, with untold potential to illuminate any treatment of the medieval world on any continent in the Eastern Hemisphere.”—Ingrid Rowland, University of Notre Dame

Yossef Rapoport is a Reader in Islamic History, Queen Mary University of London

Introduction by Dr Alison Otha (RAS):

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