Medieval Islamic manuscript available online

29 March 2007

pageThe Bodleian Library in collaboration with the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford has launched a website dedicated to The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences, and Marvels for the Eyes, the newly discovered medieval Arabic manuscript. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the AHRC, the project is an essential tool for scholars, students and teachers with an interest in Islamic history and culture.

The website contains an electronic high-quality reproduction of the manuscript, an edition of the Arabic text translated in English and a Teachers' Pack for Key Stage 3 (aimed at 11-14 year olds). It also provides a search tool in both English and Arabic. The website employs a new method for publishing maps with a mouse-over facility that allows the user to enlarge the labels and read the Arabic text with the translation alongside the label.

Lesley Forbes, Keeper of Oriental Collections, Bodleian Library said: The Book of Curiosities itself is incredibly important, containing some of the earliest and most arresting cartography of its kind. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the AHRC we have been able to give this unique material the treatment it deserves. This new website employs an entirely new method for publishing and analysing maps, and, combined with the Teachers' Pack, is a valuable educational resource.

The Book of Curiosities is an illustrated anonymous cosmography, compiled in Egypt during the first half of the 11th century. The only known copy of this manuscript, probably made in the late 12th or early 13th century, was acquired by the Bodleian Library in 2002. Its unique maps and diagrams include: diagrams of star-groups and comets; a rectangular map of the world with a graphic scale (the earliest surviving example of such a map); a circular world map; individual maps of islands and ports in the eastern Mediterranean, including Sicily, Tinnis, Mahdia, Cyprus, and the Byzantine coasts of Asia Minor; maps illustrating the Mediterranean Sea as a whole, the Indian Ocean, and the Caspian Sea; and maps of five major rivers (the Nile, Indus, Oxus, Euphrates, and Tigris).

The Book of Curiosities was the centrepiece for a highly acclaimed exhibition at the Bodleian Library in 2004. It is also featured in the book Medieval Views of the Cosmos, published by the Bodleian Library. The publication can be ordered from

The official website of The Book of Curiosities is

Picture: The Map of the World in The Book of Curiosities. Copyright Bodleian Library.

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