Adventures on the Arabian Seas

People in Muslim civilisation were inspired to travel and explore their world, and the famous teachings of 'Seek Knowledge even if as far as China' only encouraged this notion. Navigators, explorers and general travellers roamed East and West using detailed maps and a multitude of navigational devices.

Al-Idrisi's 12th century map commissioned by the Norman King Roger of SicilyOriginal Source: from Al-Idrisi's Book of Roger

People in Muslim civilisation were inspired to travel and were renowned for discovering their world whether by land or sea for trade, exploration, acquiring knowledge, creating diplomatic ties or for the annual pilgrimage.

Therefore, map making, ship building and the development of navigational devices became essential trades, and skilled navigators and explorers started setting sail in the seas and oceans.

Navigators and Adventurers from Muslim Civilisation, artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Famous navigators, explorers and travellers ventured further afield, making discoveries and bringing back exciting tales to tell and leading epic expeditions.

Born around 1432, Ahmed Ibn Majid, was a mariner from the Arabian state of Julphar, now Ras al-Khaymah in the UAE. His life spanned a period of incredible global exploration.

Short film about Ibn MajidOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

He was a master of navigation. With a lifetime of experience, he could navigate almost any route from the Red Sea to East Africa and China.

A 13th-century manuscript depicts an eastern Muslim boat from Maqamat al-HaririOriginal Source: Maqamat al-Hariri 13th century

Ibn Majid wrote sailing manuals to assist other travellers.

His most famous book, written in 1490, was an encyclopaedia of navigational information called Kitab al-Fawa'id fi Usul 'ilm al-bahr wa al-qawa'id, or Book of Useful Information on the Principles and Rules of Navigation. In it he dealt with the fundamentals of sailing and how to navigate using the stars.

A wind tunnel interactive at 1001 Inventions exhibition highlighting the working principle of lateen sailsOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Navigators in the Arabian sea, like Ibn Majid, used their knowledge of the stars, the currents and winds to undertake sophisticated sea travel sailing in boats with lateen sails.

Lateen, or tri-cornered, sails could be directed toward the wind so that the air pressure dropped on one side-allowing the boat to move at an angle into the wind.

Artistic depiction of the exchange of knowledge along the silk roads, by Ali AmroOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Another famous 15th-century navigator was Muslim Chinese Admiral Zheng He, also called Cheng Ho. He led seven epic world voyages in the largest wooden ships ever built. Although only a rudder survives, records of the ships show they could hold hundreds of crew and large cargoes of silk, porcelain, gold and other goods.

Photograph of a small model of Zheng He's Junk Zhip1001 Inventions

The largest ships in Zheng He's fleet were about six times bigger than those of Christopher Columbus, who sailed decades later.

Replica model of Zheng He boat at 1001 Inventions exhibitionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

They were some 137 metres long and were described as "floating cities" or "swimming dragons."

A short film about Zheng HeOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

During the seven voyages, over a period of 28 years, fleets of Zheng He's ships visited 37 countries throughout Asia, the Middle East and East Africa.

He brought back to China exotic species like giraffes and made diplomatic links reviving the maritime silk road.

Oldest surviving map showing America drawn by Admiral Piri ReisOriginal Source: Piri Reis's Book Kitab al-Bahriyye

Almost a century later, Turkish naval captain Piri Reis gained fame. He wrote a manual of sailing directions called The Book of Sea Lore.

He also drew in 1513 a detailed map showing the Americas. To make it, he used Arab and Portuguese maps, as well as one drawn by Christopher Columbus.

A map by Piri Reis, from his 16th-century book Kitab al-Bahriyya, shows CyprusOriginal Source: Piri Reis's Book Kitab al-Bahriyye

In 1528, he drew a second map covering the northwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean, including newfoundland on Canada's east coast. The map shown here, however, shows Cyprus and is from his book Kitab-i-bahriyye.

Al-Idrisi's 12th century map commissioned by the Norman King Roger of SicilyOriginal Source: from Al-Idrisi's Book of Roger

Highly celebrated scholar, Al-Idrisi, who lived in the 12th century, drew this map with the south to the top and north to the bottom, as was customary then - although the image is fixed here so that falls into the modern perspective.

Children examining a copy of Al-Idrisi's 12th century map at the 1001 Inventions exhibition in AmmanOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Al-Idrisi's map was commissioned by the Norman King Roger of Sicily. It showed most of Europe, Asia and North Africa.

A 13th-century manuscript shows a caravan en route to MakkaOriginal Source: Maqamat al-Hariri 13th century

Travel and exploration was not limited to professional sailors and navigators. Every able Muslim is expected to go on the hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah.

This meant that countless pilgrims journeying to Makkah, in addition to merchants enjoying flourishing markets, left detailed and exciting accounts of their journeys giving us a clear and rich picture of geography, cultures and customs in the countries they travelled through.

Credits: Story

Created by 1001 Inventions
Producers: Ahmed Salim, Shaza Shannan

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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