SEVILLE, Spain, May 12, 2006 – Starting this month visitors to Seville will be able to view a fascinating exhibition commemorating the 600th anniversary of the death of history’s most important – but little known – Muslim intellectual and learn more about one of the past’s most traumatic, and nastiest, centuries. Kicking off May 19, “Ibn Khaldun, the Mediterranean in the 14th Century: Rise and Fall of Empires,” will be presented in one of Spain’s most beautiful buildings, the Real Alcázar through September 30 and could not be more timely. Almost 300 works – a renowned altarpiece, an astrolabe, a Sultan’s helmet, a priory chair, a Koran lectern, a Moorish king’s sword, centuries-old manuscripts, bejewelled goblets and gold coins – have been gathered from museums and libraries throughout Europe and the Middle East. Treasures from Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Syria, Turkey and the UK will be on display during the four and a half month show.
By most historical accounts, the 14th century was a miserable time to be alive in much of Europe with wars, plagues, epidemics, banditry, insurrections, droughts, and just plain bad government – much like what we are living through today. The exhibit deals with several traumatic events that shook the 14th century: the 100 Years War which ravished Europe; the Black Plague of the years 1348-50, “the deadliest disaster in history,” according to many historians, and the struggles for the consolidation of the Spanish kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. The 14th century also saw a wave of palace intrigues which brought continuous struggles and successive changes of government to both the Muslim-Maghreb world and to al-Andalus – the Arabic name the Muslims gave to the Iberian Peninsula. There they created a rich and vibrant culture – from the seventh to the 14th centuries – when most of Europe was living through a dark age. Iconic figures such as Tamerlane, Boccacio, Dante Aligheri, Marco Polo, Petrarch and the double vizier Ibn al-Khatib figured prominently during their period.
Considered the founder of modern historiography, Ibn Khaldun was one of the great Muslim intellectuals. Of Andalusi descent, he spent part of his life in al-Andalus, living at the court of the Nasrid King Muhammad V, where he was named ambassador to the court of Pedro I the Cruel in Seville. A social historian and celebrated author of the Muqqadim, the Introduction to Universal History, Khaldun was concerned with the logic of empires, their expansion and decline, and his reflections on the formation of states are considered seminal.
In the “Rise and Fall of Empires,” the curators set out to examine the political, economic and social relationships between West and East, between Europe and the Arab-Maghreb world. Set in and around the Mediterranean, European and Muslim states are represented through their cultures and conflicts, their commercial relations and economic organizations as well as through the artistic legacy which marked this decisive period in history. Through the analytical work of Ibn Khaldun, visitors will learn of the contributions of al-Andalus and the historic role Seville played as an important river port and crossroads in Spain as seen against the events of the 14th century: the rise of the Italian maritime republics of Genoa and Venice, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and the continued importance of the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Cairo as major commercial centers. During this period the cultural exchange between the Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures was at the root of synthesis and experimentation that would go to form the foundations of the Renaissance, alongside a series of scientific advances without precedent in previous centuries. Seville was a melting pot for different artistic influences such as the popular Gothic-Mudejar style and became one of the main European centers for book-printing.
Staging the exhibition in the beautiful Mudejar palace of the Real Alcázar – Seville’s main focal point, its most outstanding historic complex and the oldest royal palace still used by a European monarch – enhances the works and is particularly appropriate. Ibn Khaldun visited Pedro I the Cruel there between 1363 and 1365. For this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition, the Real Alcázar will offer special evening viewing hours so visitors can also walk through the spectacular gardens, fountains, pavilions and terraces of the royal residence by moonlight.
Some of the most important pieces gathered from international collections include: an altar panel from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum; the manuscript of Universal History by Ibn Khaldun from France’s National Library; a 13th century sultan’s helmet (Egypt or Syria) from Brussel’s Royal Museum of Art and History; a lectern for the Koran from the National Museum in Damascus, a jewellery chest from Athens’ Benaki Museum and a manuscript of “al-Muqqadima” from Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. Among the most significant Spanish works are: a pendant from the Battle of Salado; a priory chair belonging to the wife of Sancho III, the King of Castile; a 14th century sword probably from Boabdil, the last Moorish king of Granada, a letter from the sultan of Granada to King Jaime II of Aragon, a manuscript containing the “Triumphs” of the Italian poet Petrarch and a selection of numismatic pieces from various kingdoms throughout the 14th century world.
Ibn Khaldun, the Mediterranean in the 14th Century: Rise and Fall of Empires,” will be at the Real Alcázar from May 19 to September 30. Daytime hours are from 9:30 AM to 8 PM Tuesdays to Saturdays and Sundays and holidays from 9:30 AM to 6 PM. Special evening viewings are Mondays to Saturdays from 8 PM to midnight and Sundays and holidays from 6 PM to Midnight. Tickets are about $8.90 or 7 euros for adults and are available at the Real Alcazar and Corte Ingles department stores. Go to: www.legadoandalusi.es or www.elcorteingles.es. Seniors over 65 and children under 12 are admitted free of charge. The dedicated web site www.ibnjaldun.es has extensive background in English about the exhibition, the history of the 14th century and its notable figures as well as ten high-resolution Jpeg images (Click on: “press office” and then “images.”)
Organized by the region of Andalusia’s Presidential and Culture Councils through the Legacy of al-Andalus Foundation, the exhibition is sponsored by the El Monte Foundation, Telefónica and Mapfre. Other collaborators are: Seville City Hall, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, the State Society for Cultural Events Abroad (SEACEX), the Governing Board of the Real Alcazar, the Seville-NODO Foundation, the Tourism and Sports Council of the region, the Education and Science Council, UNESCO, ALECSO, the Three Cultures Foundation, the Euro-Arab Foundation, the Averroes Committee and the ONCE and the Jose Manuel Lara Foundation.
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