Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
A THOUSAND AND ONE CITIES

THE CITY of Hangchow -- what do we know about it? Hardly more than that it is located in China, even though it was once the largest and richest city in the world. But the fame of a city passes, especially when it is so far away. And it was in far-away Asia that the greatest builders and destroyers of cities in the Middle Ages had their field of activity. Among the few prominent. European cities at the end of the first millennium were Córdoba and Seville in Spain, and Palermo in Sicily, and all three were Arabic.

From the eighth century on, Islam, the new world religion, had been expanding till it reached from Spain to India. A garland of great cities surrounded the Islamic world: Cairo in Egypt, Damascus in Syria, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Isfahan in Persia, Samarkand and Bukhara in Turkistan, Kanauj and Delhi in India.

Mohammed's successors bore the title of Caliph, and to their people they were both pope and emperor. At first, the Caliph's residence was in Medina, the Holy City of Arabia, and Mohammed's final resting place; then in Damascus, which had in the past been subjected to Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman masters; and finally in Baghdad, the cosmopolitan city of the Islamic world. Caliph al-Mansur developed the little town of Baghdad into a military encampment and glorious metropolis. It was situated on the bank of the river Tigris, only about fifty miles north of ancient Babylon. After Kish, Babylon, and Seleucia and Ctesiphon, Baghdad was the fifth and so far last great city centre in the heart of the tworiver country, where so many historical events had taken place. The caliphs made Baghdad not only the centre of the new world religion, but also a citadel of the sciences second to none (except possibly, Byzantium), and one of the largest trading centres on earth. The river Tigris is navigable up to Baghdad, and the city was situated at the crossroads of the caravan routes from Persia, Asia Minor, Egypt, and the Arabian peninsula. Caliph Harun-alRashid, who reigned from 786 to 809, built a bridge across the Tigris, extended the city area to the east bank of the river, and thus made Baghdad four times the size of Rome. He invited artists and scientists to his court and had communication with Charlemagne.

Haruns sense of justice is spoken of in glowing terms in The

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