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The Magic Carpet Flight Manual

The magic carpet is one manifestation of man's fascination with flight. What does our desire to defy gravity tell us about ourselves? Writer Cathy FitzGerald explores its appeal on the imagination.

Web-dreaming one day, writer Cathy FitzGerald stumbled on a site belonging to a museum in Iran.

It purported to tell the 'true history' of the flying carpet – how it was invented around the time of King Solomon and flourished with the rise of artisan makers in 11th century Baghdad.

The article detailed the many uses of the carpet – military, as a means of aerial attack; commercial, as a vehicle for the transport of goods; and cultural, as a device to help readers in the library at Alexandria reach the high books – and explained how they were finally wiped out during the Mongol invasion of Central Asia.

The article appears across the web, rarely with any caveat or credit. Cathy tracks down its author, the writer Azhar Abidi, and together they separate carpet fiction from carpet fact.

She goes on to meet a Japanese astronaut who took a real carpet into space - and flew it, a Muslim whose prayer mat rises above the mundane and a physicist working on levitation in the quantum world.

Along the way, cultural historian Marina Warner explains the origins of the symbol in the Arabian Nights, and wonders whether we had to invent flying carpets in order to learn how to fly.

We dream of flying and often long to fly unaided - is that part of it?

Cathy FitzGerald explores the past, present, and very real future of the magic carpet and wonders what our desire to defy gravity tells us about ourselves.

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25 minutes

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