Universität Erfurt

Projekt von Dr. Imants Lavinš

Space, Reality and Symbolism in Medieval Islamic Cartography

My research interest in Gotha will be focused on the cartographic material of the al-Balkhī School (manuscripts from the 13th century), especially on the World maps, Mediterranean region, Maghrib and Caspian See region. The work will also deal with such authors of later period as al-Qazwīnī (d. 1282), Ad Dimashqī (d. 1327), ibn al Wardī (d. 1457), whose works, undoubtedly, bear impact of the cartographic material of the above mentioned period of time. During my research special attention will be paid to questions linked with spatial perception and visualization in medieval Islamic cartography. In order to explain the physical universe it was necessary to organize it and make it schematic. Without this organization and schematization, it was complicated to picture the territory described: lands, seas, rivers, bays, mountain ranges. It is well known that Anaximander of Miletus (6th century B.C.) had remarked that of all disciplines, the most adequate and commonly used tool to explain the universe was geometry, since it was based on ideal forms – the circle and the sphere. Thus, the attractive symmetry of the ideal form was used to schematize the territory. But because it was impossible to imagine or describe every territory as a geometrical figure, another method of schematization was applied. The object under examination was associated, described or compared with some empirical object. Usually geographical objects were compared to animals of their body parts, flora, parts of the human body, instruments, means of transportation, etc. These ways of organizing geographical objects in medieval Islamic literature, using visualization and geometrical forms and empirical objects, have not been specially researched or described. My research will be focused on this matter.

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