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Explore the Dublin Destinations That Inspired “Dracula”

When Bram Stoker penned “Dracula,” arguably the Irish author’s most recognizable piece of writing, little did he know how much the blood-hungry protagonist would become embedded in pop culture years later. Today Dracula is easily one of the most recognizable characters in literary history, not to mention a staple at Halloween costume parties around the world.

Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, Stoker took much of his inspiration for his horror novel, which was released in 1897, from his hometown and points nearby. From the crypts tunneling beneath a medieval church in the center of Dublin to the crumbling façade of a former monastery in a seaside town where he would go on holiday, inspiration was all around him. And there’s no better way to experience the man behind the book in person than to follow in his footsteps.

In addition to being a wealth of inspiration for the author, the city is also the location of the annual Bram Stoker Festival. Now in its seventh year, the four-day event (October 26-29) celebrates all things Stoker and will include a “gothically inspired program of events” such as live performances, readings and guided tours. While many of his haunts will serve as venues during the festival, the following places are a must visit for any “Dracula” fan.

Bram Stoker’s Homes

Bram Stoker's former home on Kildare Street.
Bram Stoker’s former home on Kildare Street. (Flickr Michael Coghlan – Flickr/Creative Commons)

The small, Georgian-style house located at 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, Dublin 3, is everything one would expect from the birthplace of the literary legend. In an article published in “The Irish Times,” the author describes Stoker’s childhood home as an old house that “creaks and groans at night” with crucifixes displayed prominently on the walls and black wooden beams crossing the ceiling. Stoker lived there until adulthood, eventually moving into a house at 30 Kildare Street, Dublin, 2, an historically landmarked building. While both properties are not open to the public, they’re still both worth visiting just to be able to walk in the author’s footsteps.

Trinity College Dublin

Inside the library at Trinity College, where Stoker was a student.
Inside the library at Trinity College, where Stoker was a student. (Flickr Fred Bigio – Flickr/Creative Commons)

During his college years, Stoker was better known for his athletic prowess than his academic abilities, competing in weight lifting and speed walking competitions. Between studying and events, he also worked as a civil servant at Dublin Castle and juggled roles as auditor of the school’s historical society and president of the school’s philosophical society, making him a well-known figure around the campus. In 1870 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, claiming that he graduated with honors, however Trinity College refutes that claim.

Saint Ann’s Church of Ireland

Built in the early 18th century, Saint Ann’s has been an important landmark in Dublin for centuries and is notable for both its Baroque style of architecture and its many contributions to the community (since 1723, the church has had a bread shelf near the altar that offers freshly baked bread for anyone in need). The church is also where Stoker and Florence Balcombe were married in 1878. Interestingly, before tying the knot, Balcombe was dating another local legend: Oscar Wilde.

Dublin Writers Museum

A bust of Stoker created by sculptor Bryan Moore resides inside the Dublin Writers Museum.
A bust of Stoker created by sculptor Bryan Moore resides inside the Dublin Writers Museum. (Courtesy Dublin Writers Museum)

Much like Stoker, many of the world’s most celebrated writers have lived in Dublin, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and Brinsley Butler Sheridan. Perhaps one of the best places in the city to experience their literary accomplishments firsthand is at the Dublin Writers Museum. Housed inside an 18th century mansion, the museum contains a comprehensive collection of books, portraits and artifacts belonging to these late writers, including a first edition of Stoker’s “Dracula.” Other holdings include business letters penned by Stoker, a portrait by painter Aidan Hickey and a bust created by sculptor Bryan Moore given to the museum earlier this year in the presence of several members of the Stoker family.

St. Michan’s Church Crypts

The mummified remains of Dublin's elite rest in the crypts beneath St. Michan's Church.
The mummified remains of Dublin’s elite rest in the crypts beneath St. Michan’s Church. (Jennifer Boyer – Flickr/Creative Commons)

As one of the oldest churches in Dublin (it dates back to 1095), it’s no surprise that this medieval place of worship gives off a bit of an eerie vibe. But it’s what rests beneath St. Michan’s that’s truly creepy. Located past a metal-chained doorway and limestone stairway sits the burial vaults of some of the city’s most notable residents, including the Earl of Leitrim. Precariously stacked, many of the coffins have given way to the hands of time, revealing the skeletal remains of its occupants. It’s said that Stoker regularly visited the crypts and used them as inspiration when writing “Dracula.”

Whitby, North Yorkshire, England

Stoker visited Whitby Abby in the seaside town of Whitby while on holiday.
Stoker visited Whitby Abby in the seaside town of Whitby while on holiday. (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Although not in Dublin (it’s located 300 miles to the east in England), Whitby played a key role as inspiration in the creation of “Dracula.” In 1890, Stoker went on holiday to the seaside town, spending time exploring its medieval architecture, including Whitby Abbey, a crumbling Benedictine monastery founded in the 11th century. Stoker mentioned the abbey in his book along with Swales, one of Dracula’s victims, which Stoker took from an inscription on the headstone from a nearby graveyard. But perhaps the author’s biggest epiphany was during a visit to the local library, where he flipped through a book about Vlad Tepes, a 15th century prince who killed his enemies by driving a wooden stake into their hearts, thus earning the nickname Vlad the Impaler—or simply, Dracula.

SMITHSONIAN.COM

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Brooklyn-based journalist. Her articles have been published in The New York TimesScientific AmericanPopular MechanicsUnited Hemispheres and more. You can find more of her work at her website.

Sinan, the Ottoman Empire’s Master Architect

Rustem Pasha Mosque in the foreground and the Suleymaniye Mosque, an Ottoman imperial mosque on the Third Hill of Istanbul.
National Geographic Creative/Alamy

Between the 13th and 16th centuries the Ottoman state grew from a small Turkish principality in Anatolia into a sprawling empire that controlled territory in eastern Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. This transformation was accompanied by the development of a distinctively Ottoman style of architecture. Across the diverse territories that had been gathered under Ottoman rule—and that had little in common in terms of language, religion, or culture—monumental buildings featuring massive domes and soaring pencil-thin minarets were instantly recognizable manifestations of Ottoman grandeur.

The individual most responsible for developing and refining the classical Ottoman architectural style was a builder named Sinan (1491–1588), who served as the empire’s chief architect from 1539 until his death in 1588. During that time he designed hundreds of buildings, including mosques, palaces, baths, tombs, and caravansaries, and oversaw the construction of hundreds more.

Sinan was born to a Christian family in southeast Anatolia. When he was 21 he was drafted into the Jannisary corps, an elite Ottoman infantry force who were recruited as adolescents or young men from the Christian territories of the empire and converted to Islam. He participated in the military campaigns of Suleyman the Magnificent, both as a combatant and as an engineer—the latter allowed him to develop the building expertise that he would put to use later in life.

When Sinan was 47, Suleyman appointed him as the chief architect in Istanbul. Sinan embarked on a series of increasingly impressive buildings. His first large mosque was the Sehzade Mosque in Istanbul, dedicated to the memory of Suleyman’s son and heir who died at the age of 22.

Another of Sinan’s most important works is the Süleymaniye Mosque complex, which remains an essential feature of Istanbul’s skyline. It is almost as large as the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine church that was converted into a mosque in Ottoman times. The core of the building is a vast dome flanked by two semidomes, which combine to form an awe-inspiring interior space. The ground on which the Süleymaniye complex was constructed slopes toward the Bosporus strait; one of Sinan’s architectural talents was his ability to build on challenging terrain.

The Selimiye Mosque, built in Edirne between 1569 and 1575, is considered Sinan’s masterpiece. In this building, Sinan managed to build a dome roughly as large as the dome of the Hagia Sophia, both having a diameter of about 31 meters. The dome sits on eight piers in an octagon, rather than the usual four larger piers, giving the central space a feeling of openness and weightlessness that is enhanced by the light that filters in from hundreds of small windows.

After completing the Selimiye Mosque, Sinan continued to design smaller buildings until his death in 1588.

 

Ten books to read in September

Gary Shteyngart, Lake Success (Credit: Credit: Random House)

Gary Shteyngart, Lake Success

In Shteyngart’s biting, edgy, often hilarious new novel, hedge-fund manager Barry Cohen, who manages $2.4 billion (£1.86b) in assets and is being investigated by the SEC, is steadily divested of privilege while travelling across the country by Greyhound bus. Back home, his estranged wife Seema struggles to keep up with their newly diagnosed autistic three-year-old son, Shiva, and begins an affair with a neighbour. Her sections of the novel are tender in comparison with Barry’s. An outgoing narcissist, he befriends a crack dealer on a Baltimore block that fans of The Wire like to visit, hangs out with a onetime colleague in Atlanta, tracks down an old Princeton girlfriend in El Paso. Barry loses everything, but gathers more kindness from his fellow passengers than from everyone in his years in finance. (Credit: Random House)

Abby Geni, The Wildlands (Credit: Credit: Counterpoint)

Abby Geni, The Wildlands

Geni’s impressive second novel begins with a catastrophic tornado. Cora, six years old, notes that the horses are screaming and the Oklahoma sky is “soaked with a new colour. Damp jade. Split pea soup. Moss on stone.” Within hours, her father, their home, and all the animals are gone. Her older sister Darlene settles brother Tucker, sister Jane and Cora in a mobile home instead of going to college. Tucker takes off, drawn into animal-rights activism. Three years later, injured after bombing a local factory that is cruel to lab animals, he kidnaps Cora to help him. Cora adores Tucker, but gradually sees how dangerous he is. Geni’s genius is that she makes us empathise with every member of this troubled family, and also with the animals Tucker yearns to protect. (Credit: Counterpoint)

Kate Atkinson, Transcription (Credit: Credit: Little, Brown)

Kate Atkinson, Transcription

In the latest from this masterful, Whitbread award-winning novelist, Juliet Armstrong is living alone in 1950, working as a producer for the BBC. She encounters a former colleague she knew as Godfrey Toby, but he denies knowing her. This sighting is the first reminder of a clandestine role she thought she’d left behind when the war ended. From 1940 to 1944 Juliet worked for MI5 as a transcriptionist for Godfrey. He was taping fifth columnists – Nazi sympathisers in London who brought him treasonous information, believing he was a Gestapo agent. As long-buried secrets resurface, Juliet’s life is at risk and it’s unclear who can help her decipher the mystery. “Today the dead were everywhere, tumbling out of the box of the past and inhabiting the world of the living.” (Credit: Little, Brown)

Miriam Pawel, The Browns of California (Credit: Credit: Bloomsbury)

Miriam Pawel, The Browns of California

Pawel’s illuminating history focuses on the father and son who served nearly a quarter century as California governors: Pat Brown, an “ebullient, beloved, old-style politician” and his “cerebral, skeptical, visionary son,” Jerry Brown. The family’s California roots date back to a forebear who arrived in Sacramento in 1852. Pat Brown served eight years as governor in the 1960s, encouraging bipartisanship, a robust university system and preserving water resources. Jesuit-trained Jerry Brown was a forward-thinking governor in the 1970s and early ‘80s, anticipating climate change and the growth of the technology industry. When he returned to office in 2011 as governor once again, California was the sixth most powerful economy in the world. In his 2017 State of the State speech, he vowed to defend immigrants and noted, “When California does well, America does well.” (Credit: Bloomsbury)

Eric Vuillard, The Order of the Day (Credit: Credit: Other Press)

Eric Vuillard, The Order of the Day

Vuillard’s extraordinary, disturbingly resonant, Prix Goncourt Award-winning novel about the early days of the Third Reich, translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti, highlights the “underhanded maneuvers, marriages of convenience, double dealings,” greed and vicious passivity of those who appeased and supported Hitler. In February 1933, 24 German businessmen gather secretly and agree to finance the Nazi Party. (“And there they stand, affectless, like 24 calculating machines at the gates of Hell,” Vuillard writes.) British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain learns that Hitler has invaded Austria on 12 March 1938, while hosting a farewell lunch for Ambassador von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop yammers on, intentionally distracting the overly polite Chamberlain. “What’s astounding about this war,” writes Vuillard, “is the remarkable triumph of bravado… Everyone is susceptible to the bluff.” (Credit: Other Press)

Deborah Eisenberg, Your Duck Is My Duck (Credit: Credit: Ecco)

Deborah Eisenberg, Your Duck Is My Duck

Six mercurial stories from the lauded short-story master reflect our shifting times. The title story follows an artist who encounters a wealthy couple who surprise her with the news that they just bought a painting of hers. Soon she is their guest in a tropical beach house, where a playwright in residence warns her, “things are clearly about to get worse.” In the story Taj Mahal, the grandson of a vaunted Hollywood director writes a memoir, and the great man’s inner circle reunites to complain about it after it’s been published. In The Merge a corrupt CEO’s hapless post-college son tries to find his way on his own. Recalculating revolves around Adam, who discovers an uncle who long ago left the family’s Iowa farm for London, and serves as “a hazy figure, radiant and beckoning.” (Credit: Ecco)

Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Small Fry (Credit: Credit: Grove Press)

Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Small Fry

This gripping memoir by Steve Jobs’ daughter adds another layer of complexity to the public perception of the late Apple co-founder. Her mother is Jobs’ high-school girlfriend, artist Chrisann Brennan. They never married, and until DNA tests proved it definitively, he denied paternity. In her teens, Lisa lived in his Palo Alto home with Jobs and his wife Lorene. She babysits for her infant brother, but she feels alone, unsure she belongs. One night Jobs says if she doesn’t come with the family to the circus she should move out. She leaves, and after that, he’s rarely in her life. Her yearning for his affection is palpable, as is her compassion for a man of dark moods who withholds money and affection, but who, she writes, also can be “sensitive, collaborative, fun.” (Credit: Grove Press)

Jill Lepore, These Truths (Credit: Credit: WW Norton)

Jill Lepore, These Truths

Harvard professor Lepore’s invaluable political history serves as a refresher course on the American experiment, based on three political ideas – “political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people”. It’s also an old-fashioned civics book, explaining “the origins and ends of democratic institutions.” She ranges from 1492, with Columbus’s voyage, to the aftermath of the 2016 election, that “rent the nation in two”, and Donald Trump’s Twitter account. She parses the origins of the Constitution, the separation of church and state, the effects of slavery and the Civil War on the democracy, the country’s entrance into world wars and the Cold War, plus the wars waged since 9/11. By emphasising founding fathers and presidents, and charismatic leaders on both sides of the political divide, she makes history vivid. (Credit: WW Norton)

Mary Gabriel, Ninth Street Women (Credit: Credit: Little, Brown)

Mary Gabriel, Ninth Street Women

Gabriel’s fascinating group portrait of Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler – women who played pivotal roles in the New York School during the emergence of abstract expressionism between 1929 and 1959 – shimmers with vivid personal detail. Gabriel opens with the landmark Ninth Street Show in May 1951, which included all five women. She traces their interwoven paths from studio to Cedar Bar to the Eighth Street loft known as the Club, to gallery openings and museum collections. Over time, Willem de Kooning outshone Elaine; Jackson Pollock eclipsed Krasner. Key contributions were erased (Helen Frankenthaler was ignored as the “fount” of the Color Field School). Gabriel makes sure these major artists who have been written out of history are not forgotten. (Credit: Little, Brown)

Lydia Kiesling, The Golden State (Credit: Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Lydia Kiesling, The Golden State

Daphne is a single mother with a toddler daughter, working for the Al-Ihsan Institute in Berkeley. Her husband was tricked into giving up his green card, and is now in immigrant limbo at his mother’s house in Istanbul. One morning, on impulse, she fetches Honey from day care and takes off for Altavista in the high desert of northern California, to the home she inherited from her grandparents. There, she has breathing space to consider her next moves and adjust to the relentless challenges of new motherhood. She encounters a neighbour in the State of Jefferson movement to secede from California and have a state without laws, and allies herself with an older woman who has spent time in Turkey. Unexpected intersections and convergences make this first novel sparkle. (Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Ibn Baṭṭūṭah MUSLIM EXPLORER AND WRITER

Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, in full Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Lawātī al-Ṭanjī ibn Baṭṭūṭah, (born February 24, 1304, Tangier, Morocco—died 1368/69 or 1377, Morocco), the greatest medieval Muslim traveler and the author of one of the most famous travel books, the Riḥlah (Travels). His great work describes his extensive travels covering some 75,000 miles (120,000 km) in trips to almost all of the Muslim countries and as far as China and Sumatra (now part of Indonesia).

Early Life And Travels

Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was from a family that produced a number of Muslim judges (qadis). He received the traditional juristic and literary education in his native town of Tangier. In 1325, at the age of 21, he started his travels by undertaking the pilgrimage(hajj) to Mecca. At first his purpose was to fulfill that religious duty and to broaden his education by studying under famous scholars in EgyptSyria, and the Hejaz (western Arabia). That he achieved his objectives is corroborated by long enumerations of scholars and Sufi (Islamic mystic) saints whom he met and also by a list of diplomas conferred on him (mainly in Damascus). Those studies qualified him for judicial office, whereas the claim of being a former pupil of the then-outstanding authorities in traditional Islamic sciences greatly enhanced his chances and made him thereafter a respected guest at many courts.

That renown was to follow later, however. In Egypt, where he arrived by the land route via Tunis and Tripoli, an irresistible passion for travel was born in his soul, and he decided to visit as many parts of the world as possible, setting as a rule “never to travel any road a second time.” His contemporaries traveled for practical reasons (such as trade, pilgrimage, and education), but Ibn Baṭṭūṭah did it for its own sake, for the joy of learning about new countries and new peoples. He made a living of it, benefitting at the beginning from his scholarly status and later from his increasing fame as a traveler. He enjoyed the generosity and benevolence of numerous sultans, rulers, governors, and high dignitaries in the countries he visited, thus securing an income that enabled him to continue his wanderings.

From Cairo, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah set out via Upper Egypt to the Red Sea but then returned and visited Syria, there joining a caravanfor Mecca. Having finished the pilgrimage in 1326, he crossed the Arabian Desert to Iraq, southern IranAzerbaijan, and Baghdad. There he met the last of the Mongol khans of Iran, Abū Saʿīd (ruled 1316–36), and some lesser rulers. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah spent the years between 1327 and 1330 in Mecca and Medinaleading the quiet life of a devotee, but such a long stay did not suit his temperament.

Embarking on a boat in Jiddah, he sailed with a retinue of followers down both shores of the Red Sea to Yemen, crossed it by land, and set sail again from Aden. This time he navigated along the eastern African coast, visiting the trading city-states as far as Kilwa (Tanzania). His return journey took him to southern Arabia, OmanHormuz, southern Persia, and across the Persian Gulf back to Mecca in 1332.

There a new, ambitious plan matured in his mind. Hearing of the sultan of DelhiMuḥammad ibn Tughluq (ruled 1325–51), and his fabulous generosity to Muslim scholars, he decided to try his luck at his court. Forced by lack of communications to choose a more indirect route, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah turned northward, again passed Egypt and Syria, and boarded ship for Asia Minor (Anatolia) in Latakia. He crisscrossed that “land of the Turks” in many directions at a time when Anatolia was divided into numerous petty sultanates. Thus, his narrative provides a valuable source for the history of that country between the end of the Seljuq power and the rise of the house of Ottoman. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was received cordially and generously by all the local rulers and heads of religious brotherhoods (ākhīs).

His journey continued across the Black Sea to the Crimean Peninsula, then to the northern Caucasus and to Saray on the lower Volga River, capital of the khan of the Golden HordeÖz Beg (ruled 1312–41). According to his narrative, he undertook an excursion from Saray to Bulgary on the upper Volga and Kama, but there are reasons to doubt his veracity on that point. On the other hand, the narrative of his visit to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the retinue of the khan’s wife, a Byzantine princess, seems to be an eyewitness record, although there are some minor chronological discrepancies. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s description of the Byzantine capital is vivid and, in general, accurate. Although he shared the strong opinions of his fellow Muslims toward unbelievers, his account of the “second Rome” shows him as a rather tolerant man with a lively curiosity. Nevertheless, he always felt happier in the realm of Islam than in non-Muslim lands, whether Christian, Hindu, or pagan.

After his return from Constantinople through the Russian steppes, he continued his journey in the general direction of India. From Saray he traveled with a caravan to Central Asia, visiting the ancient towns of BukharaSamarkand, and Balkh, all of those still showing the scars left by the Mongol invasion. He took rather complicated routes through Khorāsān and Afghanistan, and, after crossing the Hindu Kush mountain range, he arrived at the frontiers of India on the Indus River on September 12, 1333, by his own dating. The accuracy of that date is doubtful, as it would have been impossible to cover such enormous distances (from Mecca) in the course of only one year. Because of that discrepancy, his subsequent dating until 1348 is highly uncertain.

Time In India And Later Journeys

By that time Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was already a man of some importance and fame, with a large train of attendants and followers and also with his own harem of legal wives and concubines. India and its ruler, Muḥammad ibn Tughluq, lived up to Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s expectations of wealth and generosity, and the traveler was received with honours and gifts and later appointed grand qadi of Delhi, a sinecure that he held for several years.

Though he had apparently attained an easy life, it soon became clear that his new position was not without danger. Sultan Muḥammad, an extraordinary mixture of generosity and cruelty, held sway over the greater part of India with an iron hand that fell indiscriminately upon high and low, Muslim and Hindu alike. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah witnessed all the glories and setbacks of the sultan and his rule, fearing daily for his life as he saw many friends fall victim to the suspicious despot. His portrait of Muḥammad is an unusually fine piece of psychological insight and mirrors faithfully the author’s mixed feelings of terror and sympathy. Notwithstanding all his precautions, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah at last fell into disgrace, and only good fortune saved his life. Gaining favour again, he was appointed the sultan’s envoy to the Chinese emperor in 1342.

He left Delhi without regrets, but his journey was full of other dangers: not far away from Delhi his party was waylaid by Hindu insurgents, and the traveler barely escaped with his life. On the Malabar Coast of southwestern India he became involved in local wars and was finally shipwrecked near Calicut (now Kozhikode), losing all his property and the gifts for the Chinese emperor. Fearing the wrath of the sultan, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah chose to go to the Maldive Islands, where he spent nearly two years; as a qadi, he was soon active in politics, married into the ruling family, and apparently even aspired to become sultan.

Finding the situation too dangerous, he set out for Sri Lanka, where he visited the ruler as well as the famous Adam’s Peak. After a new shipwreck on the Coromandel Coast of southeastern India, he took part in a war led by his brother-in-law and went again to the Maldives and then to Bengal and Assam. At that time he decided to resume his mission to Chinaand sailed for Sumatra. There he was given a new ship by the Muslim sultan and started for China; his description of his itinerary contains some discrepancies.

He landed at the great Chinese port Zaytūn (identified as Quanzhou, near Xiamen [Amoy]) and then traveled on inland waterways as far as Beijing and back. That part of his narrative is rather brief, and the itinerary, as well as the chronology, presents many problems and difficulties, not yet surmounted, that cast shadows of doubt on his veracity.

Equally brief is his account of the return voyage via Sumatra, Malabar, and the Persian Gulf to Baghdad and Syria. In Syria he witnessed the ravages of the Black Death of 1348, visited again many towns there and in Egypt, and in the same year performed his final pilgrimage to Mecca. At last he decided to return home, sailing from Alexandria to Tunisia, then to Sardinia and Algiers, finally reaching Fès, the capital of the Marīnid sultan, Abū ʿInān, in November 1349.

But there still remained two Muslim countries not yet known to him. Shortly after his return he went to the kingdom of Granada, the last remnant of Moorish Spain, and two years later (in 1352) he set out on a journey to the western Sudan. His last journey (across the Sahara to Western Africa) was taken unwillingly at the command of the sultan. Crossing the Sahara, he spent a year in the empire of Mali, then at the height of its power under Mansa Sulaymān; his account represents one of the most important sources of that period for the history of that part of Africa.

Toward the end of 1353 Ibn Baṭṭūṭah returned to Morocco and, at the sultan’s request, dictated his reminiscences to a writer, Ibn Juzayy (died 1355), who embellished the simple prose of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah with an ornate style and fragments of poetry. After that he passes from sight. He is reported to have held the office of qadi in a town in Morocco before his death, details of which remain uncertain. It has been suggested that he died in 1368/69 or 1377 and was buried in his native town of Tangier.

Legacy

The claim of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah to be “the traveler of Islam” is well founded: it is estimated that the extent of his wanderings was some 75,000 miles (120,000 km), a figure hardly surpassed by anyone before the age of steam power. He visited, with few exceptions (central Persia, Armenia, and Georgia), all Muslim countries, as well as many adjacent non-Muslim lands. While he did not discover new or unknown lands, and his contribution to scientific geography was minimal, the documentary value of his work has given it lasting historical and geographical significance. He met at least 60 rulers and a much greater number of viziers, governors, and other dignitaries; in his book he mentioned more than 2,000 persons who were known to him personally or whose tombs he visited. The majority of those people are identifiable by independent sources, and there are surprisingly few errors in names or dates in Ibn Baṭṭūṭah’s material.

His Riḥlah, as his book is commonly known, is an important document shedding light on many aspects of the social, cultural, and political history of a great part of the Muslim world. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah was a curious observer interested in the ways of life in various countries, and he described his experiences with a human approach rarely encountered in official historiography. His accounts of his travels in Asia Minor, East and West Africa, the Maldives, and India form a major source for the histories of those areas, whereas the parts dealing with the Arab and Persian Middle East are valuable for their wealth of detail on various aspects of social and cultural life.

On the whole, Ibn Baṭṭūṭah is reliable; only his alleged journey to Bulgary was proved to be invented, and there are some doubts concerning the East Asian part of his travels. A few grave and several minor discrepancies in the chronology of his travels are due more to lapses in his memory than to intentional fabrication. A number of formerly uncertain points (such as travels in Asia Minor and the visit to Constantinople) have since been cleared away by contemporary research and the discovery of new corroborative sources.

Another interesting aspect of the Riḥlah is the gradual revealing of the character of Ibn Baṭṭūṭah himself; in the course of the narrative the reader may learn the opinions and reactions of an average middle-class Muslim of the 14th century. He was deeply rooted in orthodox Islam but, like many of his contemporaries, oscillated between the pursuit of its legislative formalism and an adherence to the mystic path and succeeded in combining both. He did not offer any profound philosophy but accepted life as it came to him, leaving to posterity a true picture of himself and his times.

Ivan Hrbek

God vs. the Gods – The First Known Instance of Monotheism in History

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In the long line of pharaohs of the dynasties of ancient Egypt, Akhenaten was unique. Yet until recently, almost nothing was known about him. Akhenaten lived during the 14th century BC and his reign lasted for 17 years.. Evidence of his existence was discovered only in the late 19th century.

The future king of Egypt was originally named Amenhotep IV, son of pharaoh Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. He was not first in line to the throne but his older brother died at a young age. Some scholars believe that the young prince was shunned as a child, as he never appeared in family portraits. He later married the well-known Queen Nefertiti.

Once on the throne, Akhenaten made revolutionary changes to Egyptian life. He banished worship of Egypt’s many gods, including Amun-Ra, popular among the priestly class. Instead, only one deity, the sun disk god Aten, was to be recognized as the Supreme Being. Akhenaten considered himself a direct descendant of Aten.

Worship of Aten may have been the first known movement away from polytheism toward monotheism. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud once suggested that Moses may have been a priest to the cult of Aten, who later fled Egypt with his followers to maintain their beliefs after the death of Akhenaten.

After changing his name to Akhenaten, the pharaoh ordered grand monuments built for Aten in the Egyptian capital, Thebes. Temples were reoriented toward the east, where the sun rose each day. Icons for other Egyptian gods were removed.

Akhenaten then had a new city built in honor of his god. Two years later, he moved the royal palace there. The new city was located at modern day Amarna and was filled with up to 10,000 people. The population included priests to the sun god, merchants, builders, and traders. Akhenaten lived here for ten years until his death.

Along with statues, there were a number of sculptures portraying the royal family. This was common for the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Almost all previous royal portraits depicted the king and queen as rigid. They are serious. They are wearing the royal insignia and their bodies are shaped perfectly and muscular. They look like gods themselves.

Not Akhenaten though. His face looks stretched. The nose is narrow and the chin is pointy. He has large lips and broad hips. A pot belly oozes over his waist. Why does Akhenaten look so different from other sculptures of the period?

One theory is that the king may have suffered some sort of ailment. One of the possibilities is that he had Marfan’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue. Some of the possible symptoms include a tall and thin body type, long arms, legs, and fingers, as well as curvature of the spine.

Yet, Akhenaten and his family look like real people with physical flaws. It is timeless. The images reach out to us through the many centuries. In one stone relief, the sun god Aten’s light is shining down on Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and some of their children.

The pharaoh is holding one child in his arms, giving her a kiss. Nefertiti is holding two younger kids, one child reaching for the queen’s jewelry. It’s a scene that might look like any contemporary family.

It appears Akhenaten’s rule was not popular, both within the kingdom and beyond. Correspondences from foreign rulers allied to Egypt describe frustration with Akhenaten’s lack of military and financial support. Egyptian power and influence declined during the king’s reign.

Akhenaten’s religious reforms did not outlive him. Almost immediately after his death, the priestly elites of Amun-Ra and the other gods regained their influence. Statues and references to Akhenaten and Aten were removed. Akhenaten’s name was erased from official royal lists.

His temples were destroyed and the material used for new building projects. The city at Amarna was abandoned — even the mummified body of Akhenaten was removed from his tomb, never to be seen again.

Akhenaten’s successor was one of his sons, King Tutankhamun, also known as King Tut. He is more famous today than his father because his tomb was discovered mostly intact by archaeologists in the early 20th century.

As his name suggests, Tutankhamun embraced the old deity of Amun-Ra and the traditional ways of ancient Egypt. During his short reign, King Tut mostly turned away from his father’s legacy, the heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten.

 Mark Shiffer

How a Rejected Block of Marble Became the World’s Most Famous Statue

Florence, Italy Statue of David by Michelangelo
© massimo lama/Dreamstime.com

At the start of the 16th century the Opera del Duomo—the committee of officials in charge of the decoration and maintenance of the Florence cathedral—had a tricky unfinished project on its hands. A document from 1501 refers to a massive barely begun statue, “a certain man of marble, named David, badly blocked out and laid on its back in the courtyard.” The stone was a leftover from a long-running decorative project: in 1408 the committee had decided to decorate the roofline around the dome of the cathedral with massive statues of biblical prophets and mythological figures. The first two, put into place in the early 15th century, were a statue of Joshua sculpted in terra-cotta by Donatello and painted white to look like marble, and a statue of Hercules, sculpted by one of Donatello’s students, Agostino di Duccio.

A statue of David, the Biblical hero who slayed the giant Goliath, had been ordered in 1464. This commission went to Agostino, and a huge slab of marble was extracted from the Carrara quarries in Tuscany, Italy, for the project. For unknown reasons Agostino abandoned the project after doing only a little work, mostly roughing out around the legs.

Another sculptor, Antonio Rossellino, was hired to take over the project in 1476, but he backed out almost immediately, citing the poor quality of the marble. (Modern scientific analyses of the marble have confirmed that it is indeed of mediocre quality.) Left without a sculptor but too expensive to throw away, the massive slab sat out in the elements for a quarter century.

In the summer of 1501 a new effort was made to find a sculptor who could finish the statue. The 26-year-old sculptor Michelangelo was chosen and given two years to complete it. Early in the morning on September 13, 1501, the young artist got to work on the slab, extracting the figure of David in a miraculous process that the artist and writer Giorgio Vasari would later describe as “the bringing back to life of one who was dead.”

In 1504, as Michelangelo finished his work, Florentine officials concluded that the statue was too heavy to place in its intended location on the roofline of the cathedral. A committee of artists, including Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, met and decided that the statue should be placed at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. In 1873 it was moved indoors to the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence and a replica was erected at the original site.

There are several aesthetic aspects of the David statue that may be connected with the tortuous process by which it was commissioned and created. The figure, although muscular, is slimmer than the bodybuilder-like physiques that are typical of Michelangelo’s other works. This may be because the marble slab was narrow, having been cut with the thinner statues of Donatello and Agostino’s era in mind. The absence of David’s traditional accoutrements, a sword and the severed head of Goliath, may be because there was no room to carve them in the block of marble or possibly because they would have been invisible once the statue was put in place on the cathedral roof. Likewise, David’s disproportionately large right hand and prominent facial expression may have been exaggerated to ensure that they would be legible to spectators on the ground.

WRITTEN BY:  The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica 

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