National Museum of Cirta
Hegira 11th–12th century / AD 17th–18th century
4Tth Ast 58
Yellow copper, cut-out, engraved and pierced.
Diameter 13.5 cm
Marrakesh or Fez, Morocco.
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.
Astrolabe with six plates on the front indicating location points. An openwork plate fitted with pointers bears alphabetic kufic figures arranged in the Maghrebian order. On the back there is a pivoting scale, two dials and a characteristic zodiac arranged according to the Christian system.
Comparison with similarly dated instruments.
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.
Hartner, W., “Asturlãb”, Encyclopédie de l'islam, Vol. 1, pp.744–9.
Houria Cherid "Astrolabe" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;dz;Mus01;10;en
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
Islamic Dynasties / Period
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