Astrolabe (back)

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made in Cordoba, Spain

Postcard of Astrolabe (back).
© National Museums Scotland

Astrolabe (back)

Astrolabes can be used for time-finding, navigation, surveying, astronomy and astrology. Made in 1026 in Cordoba in Spain by an Islamic craftsman, this brass example is the earliest surviving signed and dated astrolabe made in Europe.

The photograph shows the back, with the alidade and pin detached. The signature across the top of the centre reads 'Work of Muhammad b. as-Saffar in Cordoba in the year seventeen and four hundred' (= AD 1026).

The back of Islamic astrolabes have scales and tables for finding the direction of Mecca, the burial place of the prophet Muhammad. These were used at prayer-time, when the believer had to face towards the sacred place, 'Qibla'.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-190-001-035-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1959.62
Date: 1026
417 AH = 1026/1027 AD
Material: Inscription: Work of Muhammad b. as-Saffar in Cordova in the year 17 and 400 (Kufic characters)
Dimensions: 155.00 mm
What: Astrolabe
Subject: 3. ASTRONOMY, Astrolabes (Departmental Classification)
Who: Muhammad b-as-Saffar, Cordova (Maker)
Where: Spain, Cordoba
Description: Brass astrolabe, the earliest surviving signed and dated astrolabe made in Europe, by Muhammad b. as-Saffar, Cordoba, Spain, 417 AH, 1026/7 AD
  • Macdonald, A. & Morrison-Low, A.D., A Heavenly Library: Treasures from the Royal Observatory's Crawford Collection. Edinburgh: Royal Observatory & NMS, 1994, p 24 
  • Turner, A. J., The Time Museum catalogue of the collection, Vol 1: Time Measuring Instruments, Part 1 Astrolabes & Astrolabe Related Instruments. Rockford: 1985, p 115 
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