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World Heritage Document: Arabic Manuscript of the Research Library of Gotha Declared World Heritage Document

Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad al-Fārisī al-Karkhī al-Iṣṭakhrī: Kitāb al-Aqālīm, year of copying: 1173 CE, FB Gotha, Ms. orient. A 1521, fol. 39b-40a, map of Fārs.

As part of its Memory of the World program (MOW), the UNESCO has declared the Arabic manuscript Kitāb al-Aqālīm/al-Masālik wa-'l-mamālik written by the scholar Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad al-Fārisī al-Karkhī al-Iṣṭakhrī (d. 951 AD) and now harbored in the collections of the Research Library of Gotha (University of Erfurt) as a World Heritage document.

The acceptance into the World Register honors the Research Library of Gotha (Forschungsbibliothek Gotha) for its efforts to preserve cultural heritage of exceptional value from oblivion and destruction. The library supports the UNESCO program by granting universal access to this culturally significant and historically important document.

In the tenth century Islamic scholars and travelers composed a number of geographical works known as al-Masālik wa-'l-mamālik constituting a new genre within Arabic sciences. They did not limit themselves merely to descriptions of postal routes and the physical landscape of the individual countries, but also related information on distinctive climate conditions, cities, trade, customs, and language.

The assumedly oldest illustrated manuscript of this genre can be traced back to the geographer Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad al-Fārisī al-Karkhī al-Iṣṭakhrī who comprehensively cited, commented on and corrected Abū Zayd Aḥmad b. Sahl al-Balkhī's (d. 934) lost work Ṣuwar al-Aqālīm. Al-Iṣṭakhrī composed his geographical work in the second half of the tenth century. It was copied innumerable times and translated into Persian and Ottoman-Turkish. The 21 stylized maps depicting the Islamic Empire in the tenth century form a unique feature of the al-Masālik wa-'l-mamālik. Alongside maps of the world, the Mediterranean area, the Indian Ocean, and the Caspian Sea it contains 17 cartographic depictions of regions now a part of modern-day Morocco, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, of some Persian provinces, and of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Trans­oxania. Special attention is paid to the Persian provinces and Transoxania due to al-Balkhī's and al-Iṣṭakhrī's origin and to the fact that both scholars stood under the patronage of Samanid rulers, a Persian dynasty in Greater Iran and Central Asia in the ninth and tenth century.

In 1807 the explorer Ulrich Jasper Seetzen (d. 1811) purchased this precious manuscript in Cairo for his patrons Ernst II (1745-1804) and August (1772-1822), the dukes of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. It had been copied in 569/1173 under the title Kitāb al-Aqālīm, a reference to al-Balkhī's Ṣuwar al-Aqālīm.

This Arabic manuscript is one of more than 3500 codices in the Research Library of Gotha forming the third largest Oriental manuscript collection in Germany. A broad spectrum of Islamic scholarship is represented in this collection from theology, jurisprudence, and medicine to grammar, lexicography, and poetry. Since 2015 the collection has been catalogued and made accessible in the Database of Oriental manuscripts at Gotha Research Library.


Link to the complete digitized version in the Digital Historical Library Erfurt/Gotha:

Link to the description of the manuscript in the Database of Oriental Manuscripts at Gotha Research Library:



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