Saturday, September 16, 2006

Italy: Pillars of Europe

"One of the columns of the mosque of Palmero, re-used for the duomo of Palermo. The book carved in the stone is, obviously, the Coran. The mosque was transformed into a cathedral in 1072."

An excerpt from: Islamic Sicily
King Roger smiled at his praise and touched Idrisi's [the royal geographer] hand. "Come," he said. "Let us look at the new ceiling."

Together the two friends ascended the marble steps toward the half-finished Cappella Palatina. Already complete was the Western basilican nave with pointed Saracen arches, the gleaming mosaic of the dome above. White Parian marble, gray granite and deep red porphyry rose up everywhere ... high overhead soared the marvelous Moorish ceiling. Craning their necks to look upward, Idrisi and the King could see the little figures of turbaned artists high on the scaffolding. Busy servants ran about below, ready to serve the needs of those above.

The vast honey-colored, coffered vault hung there like a vision from the Arabian Nights. It combined carving, painting and gilding. A design of interlocked stars enclosed a double row of rosettes with eight concave petals in wood over which white linen had been stretched for painting in tempera. Everywhere exquisite figures were colored in white, black, green, buff, blue, and Oriental vermillion. ... "Magnificent," breathed Idrisi. "It is the true spirit of Islamic art reproduced here in this Christian church on this Western island."

"It is beautiful," said Roger. "A gift from your people to all the world."

[ Touched by Islamic humanity and its contributions to Sicily, the Norman king rejected Pope Urban's call to Crusade in which Sicilian Muslims would be compelled to fight against Muslims in the East. His son, Roger II, refused to back the Second Crusade. ]


An excerpt from: Muslim Sicily
As they had wherever they went, the Muslims also extended and beautified such cities as Messina, Syracuse, Sciacca, Mazara, and Castrogiovanni. But the finest was Palermo, called Al-Banurmu or simply al-Madina, "the City," which Ibn Jubair [writing in 1184] described in glowing terms:

The capital is endowed with two gifts, splendor and wealth. It contains all the real and imagined beauty that anyone could wish. Splendor and grace adorn the piazzas and the countryside; the streets and highways are wide, and the eye is dazzled by the beauty of its situation. It is a city full of marvels, with buildings similar to those of Cordoba, built of limestone. A permanent stream of water from four springs runs through the city. There are so many mosques that they are impossible to count. Most of them also serve as schools. The eye is dazzled by all this splendor.
Large On Black

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