Machines from the East: Mechanical innovations from Muslim Civilisation

1001 Inventions curators shine a spotlight on some of the incredible machines produced during the Golden Age of Science in Muslim civilisation.

16th-century manuscript showing the town plan of Diyarbakir in southwest Turkey1001 Inventions

During the Golden Age of Muslim civilisation new creative and innovative ideas travelled across the land from southern Spain to China - innovations in all fields were commonplace.

"An Inspiring Golden Age", artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Around this time, mechanical engineering blossomed.

With a growing society came burgeoning needs and expanding ambitions, and all sorts of mechanical devices were pioneered, from toys and clocks to irrigation pumps and devices for conserving water.

Part view of the Market Zone at '1001 Inventions' exhibitionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Goods were made in vast amounts, and enterprising people introduced technical innovations in various industries.

Artist impression of 12th-century engineer Al-JazariOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Engineers were famous for their ingenuity.

Al-Jazari who lived in 12th century Diar Bakir was a genius engineer fascinated by all sorts of machines. He described in his Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, completed in 1206, 50 mechanical devices in detail.

Artist impression of water raising machines designed by Al-JazariOriginal Source: Al-Jazari's Book The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices'.

Some of the machines included water-raising machines like those that appear in the video.

Short film about Al-Muradi played by actor Sherif Altayeb shown in the 1001 Inventions Exhibition, Jordan Museum, AmmanOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

In the 11th century, mathematician and astronomer, Al-Muradi, authored a book titled the Book of Secrets about the Results of Thoughts in which he described numerous mechanical devices.

In this short film, an actor personifies Al-Muradi and introduces his seminal book.

Two pages from the manuscript of Al-Muradi Kitab al-asrar fi nata'ij al-afkar preserved at the Biblioteca Medicea-Laurentiana in Florence, Italy1001 Inventions

Al-Muradi thrived in Al-Andalus. In his Book of Secrets he described water clocks with gears, large mechanical toys, war-machines, machines for raising water from wells and a portable universal sundial.

3D rendering of Taqi al-Din's 16th-century six-cylinder pumpOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

In the sixteenth century, Taqi al-Din, an Ottoman scientist and engineer, published his ideas in a book called The Sublime Methods of Spiritual Machines.

He harnessed the power of surging river water with his advanced six-cylinder pump.

The pump's pistons were like drop hammers.

They may have been used to create wood pulp for paper or to beat long strips of metal in a single pass.

Animated movement of Taqi al-Din's 16th-century six-cylinder pumpOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

His pump was powered by a waterwheel that would turn a shaft, lifting the pistons and drawing water through a valve and into a water supply system.

Watch a short animation to see it in action.

Last page of the manuscript copy of Kitāb al-hiyal kept in the Library of Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, showing model of water machineOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

In Islam, cleanliness is vital and all Muslims wash before prayers - a ceremony known as wudhu or ablution.

In the 9th century, Banu Musa (the sons of Musa ibn Shakir) produced fascinating machines that they included in their Book of Ingenious Devices.

One of their devices is a portable jar that was brought to guests in the house. It gives water in short spills one after another - believed to be a method of water conservation.

Animation of Banu Musa's trick water devicesOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Animation of the water trick device from Banu Musa's Book of Ingenious Devices.

An illustration from a manuscript shows Al-Jazari's wudhu machineOriginal Source: Al-Jazari's Book The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices'.

A few centuries later, Al-Jazari also described automata of wudhu machines in his Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices.

The elaborate machine, resembling a peacock, would be brought to each guest, who would tap the peacock's head to make water pour in eight short spurts, providing just enough for ablution.

Some machines could even hand you a towel.

A 14th-century manuscript by Al-Dimashqi shows a cross-section of a typical vertical windmill1001 Inventions

In addition to the manuscripts of famous engineers, scientists and scholars, some of our knowledge of the ingenuity in Muslim civilisation comes from the writings of travellers, such as Al-Istakhri (10th century), Al-Qazwini (13th Century) and Al-Dimashqi (14th century).

Al-Dimashqi described windmills he had witnessed in Central Asia.

Built on top of castles or on the crests of hills, the windmills had vertical shafts with vanes to catch the wind.

A vertical windmill model shown in the 1001 Inventions Touring ExhibitionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Unlike traditional European designs, these windmills had two levels.

On one level were the millstones, one of which was connected to a vertical wooden shaft.

The shaft led up to the second story, where there would be six to twelve sails covered in cloth or palm leaves.

The open structure would catch the wind on the northeast side.

Artist impression of water raising machines designed by Al-JazariOriginal Source: Al-Jazari's Book The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices'.

With the innovative new ideas and technology developed during the Golden Age, came industries that helped feed an expanding civilisation.

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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