While exploring the beautiful town of Burgos in northern Spain, the traveler will be struck by the many medieval sites, including the monumental Cathedral and the ruins of the fortress. In addition to the remnants of actual structure from the medieval periods, many plaques, street names, pamphlets, and books that one encounters throughout Burgos celebrates the medieval history of the town, with particular attention to the deeds of its past kings, nobles, and prominent citizens.
(Catedral de Santa María in Burgos, constructed between the early 13th and 16th centuries . Source)
The reign of Roger II (r. 1130-1154), who had began his rule as Count of Sicily in 1105, became Duke of Apulia and Calabria in 1127, and then King of Sicily in 1130, has long fascinated everyone interested in Mediterranean history. It marks a particularly significant period for the consolidation of Norman rule in both Sicily and southern Italy. Roger II instituted a strong royal administration, overcame various challenges to his authority (in the form of rebellions) and inaugurated an expansionist foreign policy that resulted in the incorporation of substantial territories in North Africa into his realm (discussed further here).
In addition to overseeing the transformation of the Norman kingdom into a Mediterranean power that controlled Sicily, southern Italy and parts of modern-day Tunisia and Libya, Roger II’s reign is also distinguished by his patronage of a courtly culture colored as much by Arab-Islamic and Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) influences as by Latin Christian culture. This is unsurprising, given the rich Islamic and Eastern Roman history of Sicily in the preceding centuries. Indeed, the island’s large population of Christians, Muslims and Jews was predominantly Greek and Arabic speaking during the early 12th century. This variety of cultural influences and convergence of diverse communities is indicated by the distinctive culture of the Norman kingdom, perhaps best embodied by the wonderful architecture patronized and constructed by Roger II and his successors during the 12th century.
The following is an illuminated North African manuscript of the Qur’an from the royal library of Marinid sovereign Abū Ya’qūb Yūsuf (r. 1286-1307). It was transcribed in Rajab 705/February 1306. According to the cataloger of the manuscript:
The text is written in Maghribi script on parchment, with only seven lines to a page. The well-proportioned balancing of the text area with the wide margins gives the Qurʼan its monumental character. Colorful signs indicate the vocalization and golden circles mark the verses. The surah headings are written in golden Kufic, some of which are additionally set into decorated panels surrounded by strap-work or palmette frames. The medallions of the surah headings in the margins are executed with very delicate arabesque ornaments. Several elegant double-page illuminations open and close the manuscript. Experts rate this manuscript as among the most outstanding copies of the Qurʼan. The dominant feature of the original binding is a star pattern with gilded lines. Experts rate this manuscript as among the most outstanding copies of the Qurʼan in existence.
One of the many overlooked figures of the pre-modern Islamic tradition is Abū al-Ma’ālī ‘Abd Allāh b. Abī Bakr (d. 525/1131), better known as ‘Ayn al-Quḍāt Ḥamadhānī. Born in Hamadhan in Seljuk Iran around 490/1098 to a family of prominent Shāfi’ī scholars, by the age of 20 he had mastered Arabic, Persian, jurisprudence, ḥadīth, Qur’ān, poetry, kalām (dialectical theology), philosophy and various strands of mystical thought. A student of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī (d. 520/1126), the brother of the great theologian Abū Hāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī), he became an eminent scholar and mystic in his own right, composing various works in both Persian and Arabic, the most important of which were Tamhīdāt and the Zubdat al-Haqāʾiq fī Kashf al-Khalāʾiq. Much of his mystical philosophy was focused on the concept of divine love.