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Portraits of Moroccan Ambassadors in Early Modern England

There have been a number of works in recent years that have highlighted the close diplomatic relations and cultural exchange between England and Morocco during the early modern period. Although the relationship between the two monarchies varied considerably between 1570 and 1800, including both periods of friendship (as in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and Aḥmad al-Manṣūr) and tensions/hostility, there was nevertheless a maintenance of commercial links and diplomacy throughout the entire period.  As a result of this political context, Islam and Muslims were interwoven into the broader cultural history of early modern England just as European Christians were an integral part of the story of early modern Morocco. Among the treasures that have survived from this period that attest to the evolving mutual perceptions and representation of these societies are portraits of five Moroccan ambassadors who were tasked with securing trade agreements or political-military alliances between the 16th and 18th centuries.  They were:

‘Abd al-Wāḥid ben Mas‘ūd ben Muḥammad al-Nūrī

‘Abd al-Wāḥid ben Mas‘ūd was sent as the ambassador of Aḥmad al-Manṣūr of Morocco (r. 1578–1603) to Elizabeth I of England (r. 1558–1603) in 1600–1601. He was formally tasked with securing a trade agreement, but it appears that he was also involved in negotiating a possible military allegiance between Morocco and England against Catholic Spain. The painting was completed around 1600 by an unknown artist and is preserved in the University of Birmingham.

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(Source: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/east-west-objects-between-cultures/east-west-room-1)

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The Last Almohads? Two Descendants of the Almohad Caliphs in 14th-c. Nasrid Granada

The Almohads (r. 1121–1269) were the first (and last) Muslim dynasty to politically unify the entirety of Islamic Spain and North Africa since the Umayyad conquest of the region in the 7th and 8th centuries.[1] The Almohads, whose name (al-Muwaḥḥidūn) literally means “those who affirm the unicity of God,” were a religio-political movement rooted in the theological and legal principles preached by Ibn Tūmart (d. 1130), referred to by his followers as the Mahdi, to the Berber tribes of the High Atlas Mountains.[2]
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(Mosque of Ibn Tūmart , High Atlas Mountains)

The founder of the Almohad dynasty was ‘Abd al-Mu’min b. ‘Alī al-Kūmī (r. 1130–1163), an early and close follower of Ibn Tūmart, who proclaimed himself caliph (amīr al-mu’minīn) in 1130, went on to conquer large swathes of North Africa and Spain, destroying the Almoravid polity, and establishing the Almohad empire, which dominated the region until the early 13th century.

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Following the decline of Almohad power during the early 7th/13th century, between roughly 617/1220 and 669/1270, four successor states emerged in the lands formerly ruled by this dynasty: the Marinids (r. 1244–1465) in Fez, the Nasrids (r. 1232–1492) in Granada, the Zayyanids (r. 1235–1556) in Tlemcen, and the Hafsids (r. 1229–1574) in Tunis.[3] Another successor kingdom, that of the Banū Hūd, also emerged and was based in Murcia but was short-lived. Although Almohad sovereign rule was finally ended by the Marinid conquest of Marrakech in 1269, with the Hafsids of Tunis and the Hintātah tribes of the High Atlas Mountains continuing to claim the mantle of Almohad ideology, there were a large number of descendants of ‘Abd al-Mu’min who remained in North Africa, including the children and grandchildren of former Almohad caliphs.

So, what exactly happened to these princes? (more…)

Arabia Felix: why everyone should read the story of a failure

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“On a calm winter morning, on 4th January, 1761, a company of five men, clad for a journey, were rowed out from the Tollbooth into the shipping roads of Copenhagen. […] They were bound for “Happy Arabia”, but none of them seemed particularly happy at the thought”.

This is how Thorkild Hansen starts his book , Arabia Felix. The Danish expedition of 1761-1767. Hansen’s work was published in 1962, roughly two centuries after the Danish expedition took place, and by then, the adventures of the five men, the first European scholars to embark on a scientific expedition to Yemen, was well forgotten. Hansen compiled the book starting from the original documents concerning the expedition – articles, journals, letters, drawings – and combining them with a touch of gentle imagination. The result is an exquisite account. Of a failure.

Niebuhr_-_Map_of_taiz,_Yemen.jpg Map of Taiz, drawn by Niebhur.

The Danish expedition that left…

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Real Alcazar (Sevilla) in the late 19th/early 20th c.

The Alcazar (from the Arabic al-Qasr meaning palace) is the royal residence of the kings of Spain. The Alcazar is considered a World Heritage Site, like many other extraordinary pieces of architecture in Spain, and is magnificent to behold. It is one of Spain’s lesser known sites, since most visitors often consider the Alhambra in Granada or the Mezquita-Catedral in Cordoba to be more significant. However, the Alcazar is not only an amazing piece of work in its own right, but even rivals the Alhambra as a palace. The palace is built almost entirely in Hispano-Muslim style and, in many ways, resembles the Alhambra. Thus, there is a natural tendency to assume that this was a palace built by and for Muslims. This is both right and wrong. Yes, the palace was initially constructed in the taifa period and served as the royal residence of the Banu ‘Abbad dynasty, whose most famous son was al-Mu’tamid (the poet-prince). However, in its current form, the building was commissioned by a Christian king, Pedro I of Castile, in the late fourteenth century. Pedro (or Peter) hired a number of Muslim artisans and architects from among his own population in the kingdom of Castile, but also some from the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, to work on the palace. Interestingly, some of the very same artisans who worked on constructing and beautifying the Alhambra were also those who worked on the Alcazar, hence the similarities. Also worth noting is that Pedro I was a close friend and ally of Muhammad V, the Nasrid sultan who commissioned the major parts of the Alhambra palaces(Patio de los Leones, etc.) which have become the hallmarks of the structure. The building itself also integrates northern Spanish influence. As such, the building itself–in addition to underscoring the power and legitimacy of Pedro I–is also a demonstration of the medieval Spanish cultural co-production in which various medieval Iberian Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures interacted with one another and formed different parts of a unique whole.

 

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Map of the Expansion of the Kingdom of Zaragoza during the late 11th c.

This map shows the territorial evolution of the Andalusi Muslim Kingdom of Zaragoza, ruled by the Banu Hud dynasty, from a frontier principality into one of the largest taifa kingdoms during the late 11th century.

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French Translation of Ibn Khaldun’s History of the Nasrid Dynasty

The following is a link to a 19th-century French translation of ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun’s History of the Nasrid Dynasty, excerpted from his Kitab al-‘Ibar. It was translated by Maurice Gaudefroy-Demombynes and printed in Paris in 1899 as Histoire des Benou’l-Ahmar : rois de Grenade. It provides a French translation of all the relevant sections from Ibn Khaldun’s universal history dealing with the 13th- and 14th-century history of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.

http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6209967r/f1.image.r=ibn%20khaldoun

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Paradise Lost

Originally posted on S.J. Pearce:
I’ve taken one for the team. I’ve read it so you don’t have to. Yep. That book. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is a self-proclaimed corrective to a “wide-spread belief that it was a wonderful place of tolerance and convivencia of three cultures under the benevolent supervision of…