Rare books on show at Doha Book Fair

  • The Peninsula
  • 10 January 2020
  • Raynald C Rivera

A 430-year-old Italian book, which is the first record of Qatar printed in the West, is one of the rare tomes on display at the 30th edition of Doha International Book Fair which opened yesterday at Doha Exhibition and Convention Center.

Published in 1590, the book titled “Viaggio dell’Indie Orientali” is one of the most important books in the collection being showcased at the pavilion of rare book dealers Antiquariat Inlibris and Antiquariaat Forum.

“For the history of Qatar, this is the most important book we have brought here because this shows that Qatar was already known in the West at the end of the 16th century,” Laurens R Hesselink of Antiquariaat Forum told local media yesterday.

The book valued at €150,000 is the first edition of an important travelogue by the Venetian state jeweller and gem merchant Gasparo Balbi, detailing his nine-year voyage from Venice to the Far East between 1579 and 1588.

Sixteen years later, Balbi’s groundbreaking account of the Middle East which mentions Qatar was first translated to Latin which is included in “Indiae Orientalis pars septima” which is also on show at the pavilion.

Antiquariat Inlibris and Antiquariaat Forum have brought a huge collection of ancient books, maps, manuscripts, drawings and photographs celebrating Islamic culture and the history and geography of the Arab world.

Also on show is the first English edition of Lodovico di Varthema’ famous travels to Arabia, Persia and India printed in 1577.

“Lodovico di Varthema was an Italian traveler who was the first westerner to enter the holy city of Mecca,” said Hesselink.

Another book on display which Hesselink considers “very rare” is a collection of 250 hand coloured plates depicting the different customs, manners and costumes in India which was printed in Calcutta in 1796.

Other interesting pieces on display are a collection of portraits of calligraphers and scribes from Persia in the 19th Century, an Ottoman manuscript which is a translation from a French publication about electricity written in Istanbul in 1812, and an original manuscript from 1475 of old astronomical tables.

“We also have here the most beautiful book on shells ever published printed in 1758 in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is a presentation copy from the King of Denmark to Empress Josephine, the wife of Bonaparte,” he said. Asked on plans to collaborate with institutions in Qatar such as the Qatar National Library, he said, “We have been coming here for the last nine years so we have established good relationship with institutions and this is also the reason why we are here, not only to show the books to the public but also meet our friends at QNL again.”