the caliph’s palace -- 9/2/22
Today's selection -- from The Visual Arts: A History by Hugh Honour & John Fleming. The magnificent palace of the Caliph in Baghdad, circa 900 CE:
"A contemporary account of the reception of Byzantine ambassadors in Baghdad in 917 describes vividly the magnificence of the caliph's palace and also makes clear its flexibility as an architectural setting, a notable feature of Islamic domestic design.
"The palace consisted of numerous pavilions loosely arranged like a bedouin encampment at some desert oasis. Their various halls and chambers had been specially arranged for the ambassadors' visit, being as adaptable as stage-sets which could be modified at short notice to suit the occasion and provide appropriate backgrounds for the sumptuous carpets and other textiles. On arrival, however, the ambassadors were surprised to find no armed guards, only eunuchs and black page-boys -- 7,000 eunuchs and 4,000 black page-boys! (Doubtless an exaggeration permitted by 'poetic licence') As they moved in stately procession from one pavilion to another through formal and sometimes informal gardens, accompanied by the sounds of fountains and pools and chained wild animals, they realized that the caliph's treasures had all been brought out of storage for them.
"There were 38,000 hangings, including: . . . curtains of gold -- of brocade embroidered with gold -- all magnificently figured with representations of drinking-vessels and with elephants and horses, camels, lions and birds .... The number of carpets and mats of the kinds made at Jahram and Darabgird and Ad-Dawrak was 22,000 pieces; these were laid in corridors and courts, being spread under the feet of the nobles, and the Byzantine envoys walked over such carpets all the way from the main gate right to the presence of the Caliph -- but this number did not include the fine rugs in the chambers and halls of assembly, spread over the other carpets, and these were not to be trodden with the feet .... Then they came to a palace where there were 100 lions, 50 to the righthand and 50 to the left, every lion being held in by the hand of its keeper, and about its head and neck were iron chains.
"After passing through a garden with lawns and palm-trees protected with teak-wood fences bound with gilt copper rings, they found themselves by a large pool with a gold and silver tree standing in the middle, every branch having numerous twigs on which sat all kinds of gold and silver birds. The leaves of the tree move as the wind blows, while the birds pipe and sing.
"At last, after seeing 22 pavilions, the ambassadors were ushered into the presence of the Caliph Muktadir and his five sons. The caliph was arrayed in gold embroidered silk and sat on an ebony throne. The ambassadors halted before him and stood in the posture of humility, with their arms crossed."