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 True tales of cold Arabian nights

اذهب الى الأسفل 
كاتب الموضوعرسالة
Dr.Hannani Maya
المشرف العام
المشرف العام

الدولة : العراق
الجنس : ذكر
عدد المساهمات : 41676
مزاجي : أحب المنتدى
تاريخ التسجيل : 21/09/2009
الابراج : الجوزاء
التوقيت :

مُساهمةموضوع: True tales of cold Arabian nights    الأحد 15 أبريل 2012, 19:33

True tales of cold Arabian nights

The writings of scholars in 10-century Baghdad reveal periods of extremely chilly weather, and even snowfall, in the city - valuable information for climatologists today, Melanie Swan writes.

The 10th century was the height of the Islamic Golden Age, but in Baghdad the winters were harsh. The Tigris froze, becoming a new path for horseback travellers. The water in the public bathhouses was solid, too. Even animals' urine froze where it fell. It had rarely been so cold and the population was hit hard, with many dying.

Food was scarce and hundreds of palm trees perished. Some of the summers were scarcely better. Where usually the harsh heat drove the population out on to their roof terraces for overnight respite, instead they huddled inside to escape the cold. These details, culled from the literature of the time, are now being used by meteorologists to piece together a new picture of Iraq's climate more than a millennium ago.

"Arabic documentation is really useful to understand the climate variability in times and regions few studied until today," said Dr Fernando Dominguez Castro, a physicist at the University of Extremadura, Spain. Dr Castro's work on Baghdad's climate between the years 816 and 1009 was published in last month's Weather journal. In 762, the Abbasid caliphate, the third Islamic caliphate, moved its capital from Damascus to the new city of Baghdad.

It was a highly bureaucratic regime, keeping extensive records, but from the ninth century on civil strife and military invasions brought great destruction to the city and those records. Many documents are thought to have been destroyed during wars such as the one in 1258. As the Mongols put a violent end to the caliphate, a writer of the time noted that "the Tigris flowed alternately red [from the blood of the killed inhabitants] and black [from the ink of the plundered manuscripts thrown into the river]". There was also a less deliberate destruction.

While the replacement of papyrus with paper had allowed written records to become much more widespread, they did not last in the same way. Paper documents are far more fragile, and many have disintegrated over the centuries. But some literature survived. And although references to weather in the ancient writings were scant - most concentrated on political, religious and social matters - some were more forthcoming.

Particularly useful were the works of the Sunni scholar Ibn Kathir, who wrote on issues such as creation and the lives of the Islamic prophets; the historian Ibn Al Athir; and the Islamic scholar Ibn Al Jawzi. Each makes more than 20 references to climate. Others, such as Hamza Al Isfahani, Hilal Al Sabi and Al Hamadhani, mention it only two or three times.

While not enough to produce a formal "series" of climatic variables, between them these writings give some very useful pointers, recording in passing events that indicate quite specific temperature markers. Animal urine freezes only when the temperature drops below minus 0.45°C. And Ibn Al Jawzi wrote about exactly that, between 998 and 999.

"This year the cold was extreme, with clouds covering the sky and continuous strong winds," he wrote. "Thousands of palm trees in the rural areas of Madinat Al Salam [Bahgdad] perished, and those that escaped were weakened and needed some years to recover their previous loftiness and their whole body." More than a century earlier, in May 855, Ibn Al Athir noted: "This year winds from the country of the Turks affected many people, who died because they caught the coolness of the winds and suffered from the cold."

In November 902, Al Tabari noted a sudden drastic change in weather. "People in Baghdad were attending the afternoon prayer wearing summer gowns," he wrote. "A wind from the north blew, cooling the atmosphere to the point that people were obliged to sit around fires to keep warm, wearing winter clothes. Cold intensified until water froze."

Several writers mention one cold snap in particular. In 920, Ibn Al Jawzi wrote: "In July of this year, the weather became so cold that people left the roof terraces [where they usually slept] and wrapped themselves in blankets. "Later on, in winter, a strong hail poured down, damaging palm trees and other trees. There was also a great snowfall." "The picture of typical summer nights in Baghdad is one of people migrating to terrace roofs for their relative comfort in hot weather," writes Dr Castro.

For people to seek warmth inside during summer, he says, was "indeed an extraordinary event". Extraordinary, and useful. The recommended temperature range for sleep is 18 to 22°C - so it seems likely the temperature on those nights was below 18°C, nine degrees less than the coolest Baghdad usually gets in July. But why did it get so cold? Dr Castro suggests it could have been the result of a major volcanic eruption.

There were two large eruptions around around that time, though their precise times are not known. The volcano Ceboruco in Mexico blew its top around 930, give or take 200 years, while Guagua Pichincha, in Ecuador, erupted around 910, give or take 100 years. However, work with other sources would be required to assess whether either was the cause. The result, though, is clearer.

Together the ancient papers describe a period of 50 years - the second half of the 10th century - during which Baghdad was hit more often by significant climatic events - hailstorms, droughts and floods - than today, and endured more intense cold, evidenced by five snowfalls in a span of 40 years. By contrast, since 1954 the average temperature in the city has fallen below zero just once, for two days in January 1964. And the snowfall in Baghdad in 2008 was the first in living memory.

Not only was that 50-year period of turbulent weather chillier than now, it appears to have been colder than the century before it and the 50 years that followed. Dr Castro hopes other researchers will take a similar approach to other cities in the region. "Ancient Arabic documentary sources are a very useful tool for finding eyewitness descriptions which support the theories made by climate models," he says.

"The ability to reconstruct past climates provides us with useful historical context for understanding our own climate. We hope this potential will encourage Arabic historians and climatologists to work together to increase the climate data rescued from across the Islamic world."

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Labels: Ancient History, Arabian Nights, Iraq, Iraq News, Iraqi Artists, Iraqi History, Science, Snow, Turkey, Weather

Baghdad books refuse to die

Saad Tahr Hussein rushes me through the narrow alleyway towards Mutanabbi Street, where the concrete wall in front of the central bank hems in the pedestrians. About a thousand Iraqis briefly see – or don't notice – the sly shade of a Brit as he stumbles down the alley.

Then, in the square where the statue of old Marouf al-Rasafi, poet and history-debunker under British colonial rule, glares at the crowds, we turn left into the street of books. Everyone goes to Mutanabbi Street, its new statue of the Abbasid poet and king-praiser towering at the Tigris end. Here you get a feeling of what is going on in the mind of an educated Baghdadi, who still walks a road that you could get killed on five years ago.

There are chadored ladies and bare-headed girls and a bearded sayed with a black turban and a glorious green sash draped over his shoulders. There are pictures aplenty of Ali and Hussein – Iraq is, after all, a Shia country – and texts of religious jurisprudence and newly-bound Korans and, a reflection of the old Iraq, a mass of history books on Arab nationalism.

They are all second-hand, laid out on cardboard on the pavement. Last time I came here, there were no bare-headed girls, precious few divines. It's middle-aged men, secular, who bend over the history books. A young Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, confidant of Nasser, the doyen of Egyptian journalists (upon my word still alive, since he offered me a cigar in Cairo a year ago), smiles from a front cover. Many booksellers are communists.

A dour Edward Said (alas, all too dead) is printed across the Arabic edition of his essays on Palestinians. There is, unfortunately, that vicious old fake, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, on one pavement, a picture of Hitler and – very oddly – Rommel on the front. Several copies of Saddam's War, an unflattering portrait of the man who took his country to ruin in three massive conflicts, lay untouched on the ground. I point this out to Saad.

"You have to know, Robert, that, yes, we hated him and the people of Samarra hated him for what he did to them and his city of Tikrit was just north of Samarra. But when the Americans came and the resistance began, the people of Samarra would shout Saddam's name – because he was the only nationalist figure left to them." We arrive at the corner where the wall of the old Ottoman kulshah (roughly "cabinet") still stands, delicate stone insulted by a row of evil-smelling iron trash trolleys, the seat of the later royal cabinet as well, of the kingdom set up by Winston Churchill.

Across the laneway, blessed in a fine, hot dust, is the crumbling wooden doorway of Dr Mohamed Abu Amjad's bookshop. Ashteroot books, medical, scientific, English literature, language, computers, history and arts, it says above the door. Mohamed, the bookseller who never closed during the years of darkness, rummages through his shelves. I immediately buy a rare first edition of General Muhammed Naguib's biography, the guy who overthrew King Farouk of Egypt and who was later outwitted by Nasser.

I sit on a pile of books and prowl through its pages. And I come across his description of British troops marching through the streets of Cairo during the Second World War. "Their troops marched through the streets of Cairo singing obscene songs about our king, a man whom few of us admired, but who, nevertheless, was as much of a national symbol as our flag. Farouk was never so popular as when he was being insulted in public by British troops, for we knew, as they knew, that by insulting our unfortunate king they were insulting the Egyptian people as a whole."

And of course, I remember what Saad has just told me about the people of Samarra and Saddam. I snap up a faded copy of Zaki Saleh's Mesopotamia 1600-1914 – published in Baghdad more than 55 years ago. Queen Elizabeth I sent the first Brit to Baghdad and Basra, and there are pages of head-chopping history as the sultans of Baghdad, variously loathed and adored by British consuls, meet their sticky ends. And there is a fascinating chapter on the relationship between British romanticism and financial speculation in Iraq, how the names of Babylon and the Tigris (Dijle in Arabic) bestowed a kind of respectability on Western acquisitiveness.

If ancient monuments showed that this was a rich land, a centre of civilisations, why could it not be a rich land again under Britain's guiding hand? Two Brits, Shepstone and Lee by name, published a monograph in Toronto in 1915 under the title "Future of Mesopotamia, how Bible lands may be restored to their former greatness as a result of the world war". Isn't that what our economic wizards told us in 2003, how Western know-how could restore Iraq's greatness?

We snap up a copy of Washington Irving's 1849 Life of Mahomet and Ilya Ehrenburg's The Fall of Paris, a forgotten 1942 novel of France's own occupation which at times reads weirdly like Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française. Then we speed away and, near the Tigris, Saad sees a street ad for the Gypsy singer Sajida Obeid and starts to bawl one of her more risqué chants. "Screwed are the men who drink only one kind of beer". They sing it at weddings. "Only one beer and you're not man enough," Saad explains. Funny what you learn on the way back from the street of books.

by Robert Fisk for the Independent
الرجوع الى أعلى الصفحة اذهب الى الأسفل
True tales of cold Arabian nights
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