Name of Object:

Astrolabe

Location:

Constantine, Algeria

Holding Museum:

National Museum of Cirta

Date:

Hegira 11th–12th century / AD 17th–18th century

Type of object:

Scientific instrument

Museum Inventory Number:

4Tth Ast 58

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Yellow copper, cut-out, engraved and pierced.

Dimensions:

Diameter 13.5 cm

Period / Dynasty:

Alawid (?)

Provenance:

Marrakesh or Fez, Morocco.

Description:

This astrolabe has six plates on its obverse side with 12 location points. Only six place-names have been designated: Fez, Marrakesh, Tripoli, Egypt and the holy towns of Mecca and Medina. The whole is covered by a fretted plate equipped with curved needles that refer to 26 stars. The Arabic letters mainly represent alphabetical monograms that are executed in slender 'astronomical' kufic-style calligraphy, which is so termed because, although it disappeared from use from the AH 12th / AD 18th century, the kufic style remained popular for use on astronomical instruments. These monograms are placed according to a Maghrebi classification system.
The reverse side features a small pivoting ruler that has two plates pierced with holes.
The border on the back is divided into two quadrants, followed by the zodiac cycle, and then by a Maghrebi calendar in the Christian tradition, which is another characteristic of astrolabes from the Muslim West. It should be noted that the Muslim calendar was solely a lunar one; the fact that this astrolabe has a Christian calendar shows that, for certain times, the data was calculated in accordance with both the solar month and the lunar month.
This example was kept in a woven yellow ochre pocket bag with black trimming. This type of astrolabe was very common in North Africa in the AH 11th and 12th / AD 17th and 18th centuries. Several feature signatures. Morocco was one of the main centres of production.

View Short Description

How date and origin were established:

Comparison with similarly dated instruments.

How provenance was established:

The slender kufic Maghrebi characters, the Christian calendar and the values of the monograms, distinguish it as a Moroccan astrolabe; furthermore, the names of two Moroccan towns are inscribed onto two tympana; the instrument thus probably comes from either Fez or Marrakesh.

Selected bibliography:

Hartner, W., “Asturlãb”, Encyclopédie de l'islam, Vol. 1, pp.744–9.

Citation of this web page:

Houria Cherid "Astrolabe" in Discover Islamic Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.museumwnf.org/thematicgallery/thg_galleries/database_item.php?itemId=objects;ISL;dz;Mus01;10;en&id=scientific_objects

Prepared by: Houria CheridHouria Cherid

Titulaire d'un magister en archéologie islamique (1992), enseignante à l'Institut d'archéologie de l'université d'Alger de 1992 à 1999, conservateur du patrimoine archéologique et historique au Musée national des antiquités de 1994 à 2002, puis conservateur en chef à partir de 2002, Houria Cherid est chef du service Labo-photo, département Animation et Documentation au Musée national des antiquités. Elle a publié de nombreux articles dans les Annales du Musée national des antiquités et prépare actuellement un doctorat en archéologie islamique.

Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: Maria Vlotides
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: AL 14