Arabs in Sicily - Islamic influence on Sicilian Life and Art

 

> Arab-Norman bronze

> La Cuba

> The Duomo in Palermo

> Castello di Poggiodiana

> Arabic in Sicilian Geographical Names

> Tommaso Fazello's Sicilian History

> Qanat

> The Saracen Castle in Taormina

> The Lavatoio in Cefalù

 

Arab-Norman bronze items

Arab-Norman bronze pail (c. 1100-1200) from the Contrada Bambina shipwreck

Arab-Norman bronze pail (c. 1100-1200) from the Contrada Bambina shipwreck near Marsala. Beneath the rim, a punched inscription from the Qur'an in early Arabic characters. This pail was part of the exhibition Storms, War and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 21 Jun 2016 to 25 Sep 2016), but is owned by Museo archeologico regionale Lilibeo-Baglio Anselmi, Marsala.

Photo: Per-Erik Skramstad / Wonders of Sicily

 

 

Detail of Arab-Norman bronze pail (c. 1100-1200)

Detail of Arab-Norman bronze pail (c. 1100-1200) from the Contrada Bambina shipwreck near Marsala. Beneath the rim, a punched inscription from the Qur'an in early Arabic characters. (Museo archeologico regionale Lilibeo-Baglio Anselmi, Marsala.)

Photo: Per-Erik Skramstad / Wonders of Sicily

 

 

La Cuba

La Cuba, Palermo. Islamic inscriptions

Gull on top of the Norman Palace La Cuba. Arabic inscription at the top of the outer wall. La Cuba was built by William II in 1180, and is an imitation of the Zisa palace.

Photo: Per-Erik Skramstad / Wonders of Sicily

 

 

The remains of a hall with stalactite vaults and reliefs at La Cuba.

Photo: Per-Erik Skramstad / Wonders of Sicily

 

 

La Martorana

Islamic inscription on a column in La Martorana

Islamic inscription on a column in La Martorana (Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio), Palermo.

Photo: Per-Erik Skramstad / Wonders of Sicily

The inscription (in Kufic, the oldest calligraphic form of the various Arabic scripts) reads:

 

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, ("Basmala" - all prayers and chapters in the Quran starts with these words)
God is sufficient for me and He is the best advocate

 

Information about the columns in Santa Maria based on a passage in Jeremy Johns' article "The Arabic inscriptions of the Norman kings of Sicily: a reinterpretation" (link). Transcript errors are all mine since the Arabic letters (and transcript of them) are not available to me. Please check the original article for correct quotations:

Jeremy Johns states that these columns in all probability were originally employed in the porticoes of the forecourt, flanking the western entrance, and corresponding to the two dedicatory mosaic panels within. That which alludes to George bears two bands of inscription: the collar beneath the capital reads “Truly, God is with those who fear Him”, Qur'an 6: 128; and a panel in the middle of the shaft is inscribed with the hasbala, the motto introduced as an apprecatio in the Arabic documents of the royal diwan under the viziership of George of Antioch – “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, God is sufficient for me and He is the best advocate”.

The explicitly Islamic tenor of these inscriptions suggest that this column was probably spolium from a religious building, and was reused in Santa Maria because of the close association between the hasbala and the vizier George. The second column is inscribed with four ad'iya (sorry, the correct letters not available) from the standard royal repertoire used by king Roger, and was presumably carved ex novo to provide a counterpart to the first inscribed column. Based on Jeremy Johns' article "The Arabic inscriptions of the Norman kings of Sicily: a reinterpretation". I am responsible for all errors.

The Basmala

The Basmala (Arabic: بسملة‎ basmala), also known by its incipit Bismillah (Arabic: بسم الله‎, "In the name of God") is the name of the Islamic phrase "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful". This is the phrase recited before each sura (chapter) of the Qur'an – except for the ninth. It is used by Muslims in various contexts (for instance, during daily prayer) and is usually the first phrase in the preambles to the constitutions of Islamic countries. (Wikipedia)

 

 

The Duomo in Palermo

Islamic inscription on the left column outside the cathedral of Palermo

Islamic inscription on the left column outside the cathedral of Palermo may have been preserved from the earlier mosque. The passage is from the Koran.

Photo: Per-Erik Skramstad / Wonders of Sicily

 

 

Castello di Poggiodiana

In this video Jean Paul Barreaud examines Castello Poggiodiana, a military castle built on a well by the pre-Norman Muslims of Sicily. It is situated outside Ribera between Sciacca and Agrigento. Roger I later gave it to his daughter.

 

Castello di Poggiodiana

Castello di Poggiodiana (Google Satellite View).

View the castle and its surroundings on Google Earth (requires Chrome).

 

 

 

Arabic in Sicilian Geographical Names

  • Caltagirone derives from the Arabic "qal'at-al-jarar" ("Castle of [pottery] jars"). Caltagirone is famous for its pottery production. The city was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake of 1693.
  • 'Gibilmanna' derives from Arabic 'gebel' (mountain) and 'manna' (edible substance extracted from the manna ash trees).
  • Misilmeri (Menzel al Emir). Sicilian: Musulumeli.

 

 

 

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Qanat

During the Arab period (827–1072) in Sicily, Palermo was equipped with a huge water supply system (qanat/kanat).

 

 

Kanats of Sicily: Read more on Bestofsicily.com

 

The Saracen Castle in Taormina

Sicily

The Saracen castle seen from the way down from Castelmola to Taormina. The Saracens (Muslims) lost Taormina to the Normans in 1079. About 80 percent of the population in Sicily were Muslims, so relative religious harmony was essential for the Normans. Roger I's concern for the Muslims was not simply a matter of policy, Gordon S. Brown argues, "but also one of respect. He found that he had assumed rule of a state with a rich and inventive culture and tradition, one that could, in the proper circumstances, flourish side by side with Latin and even Greek traditions to the mutual benefit of all."

Ibn Hamadis (c. 1090): Poem about the Norman invasion and ousting of the Arabs from Sicily

As the wolves run through the forests
so do the invaders demolish
what they find on our island
… Oh sea, why do you separate me from my homeland
… If I could only sail back to my beloved Sicily …

Ibn Hamdis (c. 1056 – c. 1133) was a Sicilian Arab poet, born in Noto, Sicily.

The Lavatoio, Cefalù

Lavatoio in Cefalù

The Lavatoio is a picturesque medieval wash-house made during the Arab occupation of Sicily (827-1090).
Photo: Per-Erik Skramstad / Wonders of Sicily (ISO 100, f16, 30sec)

 

 

Arabic letters in Tommaso Fazello's Sicilian History (De Rebus Siculis Decades Duae, 1558)

Tommaso Fazello (1498–1570) – De Rebus Siculis Decades Duae (1558)

Arabic letters in Tommaso Fazello's History of Sicily De rebus Siculis decades duae (Palermo, 1558).

Publisher of the first edition: Giovanni Matteo Mayda & Giovanni Francesco Carrara (Palermo)

 

 

Tommaso Fazello (1498–1570) – De Rebus Siculis Decades Duae (1558)

Arabic letters in Tommaso Fazello's History of Sicily De rebus Siculis decades duae (Palermo, 1558)

 

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