They Discover a 11th Century Astrolabe Used by Muslims, Jews, and Christians

They Discover a 11th Century Astrolabe Used by Muslims, Jews, and Christians

An extraordinary discovery was made in an Italian museum as an astrolabe dating back to the 11th century was found. This astrolabe, which was utilized by Muslims, Jews, and Christians, has proven to be a significant historical artifact.

In Madrid, an expert from the University of Cambridge stumbled upon an incredibly rare 11th-century Islamic astrolabe. This astrolabe, which was discovered in the Fondazione Museo Miniscalchi-Erizzo in Verona, Italy, bears inscriptions in both Arabic and Hebrew and originates from Toledo. The age and linguistic diversity of this astronomical instrument make it one of the oldest and most unique of its kind ever found.

The astrolabe’s journey through time has seen it adapt, translate, and corrected by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian users spanning across Spain, North Africa, and Italy. This instrument stands as a testament to the centuries of scientific exchange and collaboration between these cultures.

Federica Gigante, a member of the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge, chanced upon an image of the astrolabe on the museum’s website. The museum was unaware of the artifact’s significance, even considering it might be a counterfeit. But Gigante confirmed its authenticity, making it the most important object in the museum’s collection.

Upon visiting the museum and studying the astrolabe, Gigante was enthralled by the beautiful Arabic inscriptions. But more surprising were the faint Hebrew inscriptions she discovered using the light from a window. The inscriptions were a revelation, leading to an exciting discovery.

Gigante emphasizes the astrolabe’s importance as a symbol of scientific exchange between Arabs, Jews, and Christians over hundreds of years. It’s not just a rare artifact; it’s a testament to the collaboration of these cultures.

Known as the Verona astrolabe, the instrument underwent several modifications, additions, and adaptations as it changed hands. At least three different users added translations and corrections to the object, two in Hebrew and one in a Western language, reflecting its diverse cultural heritage.

Regarded as the world’s first smartphone, astrolabes were portable computers with myriad uses. They provided a two-dimensional model of the universe that fit in the user’s hand. Users could calculate time and distances, plot the position of stars, and even forecast the future by drawing a horoscope.

Gigante, an expert in Islamic astrolabes and former curator of Islamic scientific instruments, analyzed the astrolabe’s scientific, design, construction, and calligraphic features. She dated and traced the astrolabe’s creation to Al-Andalus, the Muslim-ruled area of Spain, in the 11th century.

The astrolabe bears inscriptions which indicate the latitudes of Córdoba and Toledo. Gigante suggests that the astrolabe may have been manufactured in Toledo, a thriving center of coexistence and cultural exchange between Muslims, Jews, and Christians during that time.

The astrolabe also features Muslim prayer lines and names, organized to ensure that its original users could keep time for their daily prayers. This feature further demonstrates the astrolabe’s religious and cultural significance.

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