A rare glimpse of UAE’s past

  • The Gulf Today
  • 12. November 2014
  • R. Ramesh

SHARJAH: Tucked among the crowds of thousands of people that throng the 33rd Sharjah International Book Fair is a “world of treasure” that many people fail to take notice of.

A most attractive pair of library globes, Terrestrial and Celestial, which are the largest ever made in the 17th century by Willem Janszoon Blaeu, is up for grabs for, hold your breath — 2.5 million euros.

This is just one among the several precious Islamic-based manuscripts, rare books from 15 to 19th century, and other antiques, including old knives, that have been displayed and put on sale jointly by two Europe-based companies, Inlibris and Forum.

“Some of our collections go back all the way to 1500s. We are looking at private collectors, universities and libraries and others who are interested in purchasing these extraordinary collections,” say Laurens R. Hesselink of Forum and Hugo Wetscherek of Inlibris, who are based in the Netherlands and Vienna.

Interestingly, among the collections is also a book that gives a rare glimpse about the United Arab Emirates.

“Pliny’s celebrated Natural History gives us by far the most detailed account of the coast of the UAE,” says Laurens.

Chapter 32 of Book 6 vividly describes the Emirates islands, tribes and coast, right up the Musandam peninsula, before continuing on south along the coast of Oman.

Pliny is reported to have completed his Natural History in 77 AD and to judge from his account of the people and places of south-eastern Arabia, the area of the UAE was full of settlements, tribes and physical features, the names of which he recorded for posterity.

That’s not all. The exhibitors have also displayed Alphabet, the first book ever printed in Egypt, said to be the rarest and most important of the early books printed in the Middle East, published in the very year when modern printing was introduced to the Arab World.

According to the promoters, the unique pair of globes has been well preserved over time and still show the original patina and have been handled with great care.

The Terrestrial globe is made up of 36 hand-coloured engraved half gores and two polar calottes. The prime meridian of Tenerife is used, with California shown as an island and the Great Wall of China represented pictorially.

On the other hand, the Celestrial globe is made up of 24 hand-coloured engraved half gores and two polar calottes. The constellations are in three languages, Latin, Greek and Arabic.

Asked about the response from visitors, Laurens replied, “There are a lot of enquiries and we know that not everyone can afford such expensive pieces that are meant for specific audience. We are happy we have sold a few books already.”

A glimpse of the other collections leaves one amazed. The list includes one of the earliest descriptions of Arabia, the first printed travel report of the Middle East, 10 watercolours of falcons and the opening of the Suez Canal with 37 large lithographs.