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Cities of Learning

The Essay, The Islamic Golden Age Episode 17 of 20

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 12 February 2014

Radio 3's twenty-part essay series on the Islamic Golden Age continues its exploration through this five-hundred-year period of empire, innovation, religious turmoil, scientific discovery and major advances in philosophical thought. In this evening's essay, Dr. Amira Bennison examines the creation of two great cities of learning - Baghdad and Cairo.

The medieval Middle East is the stuff of fantasy, from the windswept deserts of Arabia to the bustling bazaars of cities like Baghdad and Cairo. But what were these cities actually like? And what part did they play in creating great men (and sometimes women) of letters, science and art? Cities figured in the Muslim imagination as hubs of religion, government, commerce and culture. Medieval Muslim geographers often conceptualised their world as one of routes linking an endless series of towns and cities like stars glittering in the firmament. Although some of these cities like Jerusalem or Damascus were already ancient when the Muslims arrived in the 7th century, others, Baghdad and Cairo included, were new Muslim creations - brash, vibrant and dense with talent, the New Yorks of their age.

Producer: Mohini Patel.


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