and the construction of domes on a cube by the creation of transitional structural supports was incorporated into the cathedrals and palaces of eleventh and twelfth century Palermo.
To these great structures the Arabs applied magnificent coverings. Their styles were elegant and daring. Arabesque, caligraphy, explosions of color and pattern are to be seen today in such structures as the Lion Court of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, the Great Mosque of Cordoba, and in many of the great medieval religious and civic buildings of much of Europe.
While we are more familiar with the influence of Arab architecture in the Romance countries of Spain, Italy and France, we do not often remember that the Arab invasions reached into central and Eastern Europe as well, and here, particularly in Russia, are startling remnants of a once powerful conquest. The brilliant blue tiled dome of the Mosque of Bibi Khanum, Timur's (Tamerlane) favorite wife, catches the visitor's eye as he turns a corner of the road in Samarkand. Here as well as in the complex of tombs called Shah-i-Zinda (The Living Prince), restoration is taking place and much of the old beauty is being returned to its former elegance.35
Navigation and Geography
The world's earliest navigation and geography were developed by Canaanites who, probably simultaneously with the Egyptians, discovered the Atlantic Ocean. The medieval Arabs improved on ancient navigational practices by the development of the magnetic needle in about the ninth century.
One of the most brilliant geographers of the medieval world was Al-Idrisi, a twelfth century scientist living in Sicily. He was commissioned
by the Norman King, Roger II, to compile a world atlas which contained seventy maps, some of the areas heretofore uncharted. Called Kitab al Rujari (Roger's Book), Idrisi's work was considered the best geography of its time.36
Then there was Ibn Battuta, who must have been the hardiest traveller of his time. He was not a professional geographer, but in his travels by horse, camel and sailing boat it is estimated that he must have covered seventy-five thousand miles. His wanderings, over a period of decades at a time, took him to Turkey, Bulgaria, Russia, Persia, and central Asia. He spent several years in India, and from there was appointed ambassador to the Emperor of China. Going from China he visited all of North Africa, and then went to many places in western Africa, stopping in Mali, Timbuctu and the Niger region.
Ibn Battuta's book, Rihla (Journey), was filled with information on the politics, social conditions, and economics of the places he visited, as well as their geographical facts. Like Marco Polo, he faced incredulity, but eventually was proven a truth teller.37
However, it was a twenty-five year old Arab, captured by Italian pirates in 1520 who has received much attention from the West. He was Hassan al Wazzan, who became a protege of Pope Leo X. Leo persuaded the young man to become a Christian, gave him his own name, and later convinced him to write an account of his travels on the then almost unknown "black" continent. Hassan became Leo Africanus, and his book was translated into several European languages. For nearly two hundred years, Leo Africanus was read as the most authoratative source on Africa.38