Ziryab, the great Kurdish polymath

Ziryab, (also spelled as Ziriab or Ziriyab) (789-857) was a polymath: a poet, musician, singer,cosmetologist, fashion designer, celebrity, trendsetter, strategist, astronomer, botanist and geographer at the Umayyad court of Córdobain Islamic Spain. He first achieved notoriety at the Abbasid court in Baghdad, as a performer and student of the great musician and composer, Ishaq al-Mawsili. Ziryab was a gifted pupil of Ishaq al-Mawsili. He had to leave Baghdad when his skills as a musician surpassed those of his teacher. He moved to Córdoba in southern Spain and was accepted as court musician in the court of Abd al-Rahman II of the Umayyad Dynasty. 

Ziryab left Baghdad some time after the death of the Caliph al-Amîn in 813 and traveled first to Sham (Syria), then to Ifriqiyya (Tunisia), where he lived at the Aghlabid court of Ziyadat Allah (ruled 816-837). Ziryab fell out with Ziyadat Allah but was invited to Al-Andalus by the Umayyad prince, al-Hakam I. He found on arrival in 822 that the prince had died, but the prince's son, Abd ar-Rahman II, renewed his father's invitation. Ziryab settled in Córdoba, where he soon became even more celebrated as the court's aficionado of food, fashion, singing and music. He introduced standards of excellence in all these fields as well as setting new norms for elegant and noble manners. He was an intimate companion of the prince and established a school of music that trained singers and musicians which influenced musical performance for at least two generations after him. In the 9th Century he introduced the New Year celebration based on the Iranian holiday Newroz to the courts ofAndalusia in Spain and thence to Europe.

Ziryab is said to have improved the 'ud by adding a fifth pair of strings, and using an eagle's beak or quill instead of a wooden pick. He is said to have created a unique and influential style of musical performance, and written songs that were performed in Spain for generations. He was a great influence on Spanish music, and is considered the founder of the Andalusian music traditions of North Africa and the Middle East. Zyriab is thought to have codified the disparate elements of Arab poetic traditions of qasidah, mwashah and zajal. Abd al-Rahman II was a great patron of the arts and Zyriab was given a great deal of freedom. He established one of the first schools of music. He was a great virtuoso on the 'ud and an amazing singer. Ziryab also introduced musical instruments—notably the Persian lute that became the Spanish guitar—as well as passionate songs, tunes and dances of Persia and Mesopotamia that later, mixed with Gypsy influence, evolved into the famed Spanish flamenco. Ziryab established a music conservatory at the court of Abdel-Rahman at Cordoba. (The German scholarly book "Moorish Architecture" by Barrucand states that Ziryab also introduced good taste, fine court manners and even new hair cuts into Spain).

Ziryab is said to have had a lasting influence on fashion, bringing styles from the Middle East to Al-Andaluz, including sophisticated styles of clothing based on seasonal and daily timings. In winter, for example, costumes were made essentially from warm cotton or wool items usually in dark colours and summer garments were made of cool and light costumes involving materials such as cotton, silk and flax in light and bright colours. Brilliant colours for these clothes were produced in tanneries and dye works which the Muslim world perfected its production, for example, in 12th century Fes, Morocco, there were more than 86 tanneries and 116 dye works.[19]In daily timing Ziryab suggested different clothing for mornings, afternoons and evenings. Henry Terrace, a French historian, commented on the fashion work of Ziryab; "He introduced winter and summer dresses, setting exactly the dates when each fashion was to be worn. He also added dresses of half season for intervals between seasons. Through him, the luxurious dress of the Orient was introduced in Spain. Under his influence a fashion industry was set up, producing coloured striped fabric and coats of transparent fabric, which is still found in Morocco today.", though Terrace goes on to caution "Without a doubt, a lone man could not achieve this transformation. It is rather a development which shook the Muslim world in general, although historic legend attributes all these changes to Ziryab and his promoter, Abd-Al-Rahman II" Ziryab is known to have invented an early toothpaste, which he popularized throughout Islamic Spain. The exact ingredients of this toothpaste are not currently known, but it was reported to have been both "functional and pleasant to taste." He also introduced under-arm deodorants and "new short hairstyles leaving the neck, ears and eyebrows free," as well as shaving for men.For women, he opened a beauty parlour or “cosmetology school” near Alcázar, where he introduced a "shorter, shaped cut, with a fringe on the forehead and the ears uncovered." He also taught "the shaping of eyebrows and the use of depilatories for removing body hair", and he introduced new perfumes and cosmetics.

He also "revolutionized the local cuisine," by introducing new fruit and vegetables such as asparagus, and by introducing the three-course meal, insisting that meals should be served in three separate courses consisting of soup, the main course, and dessert. He also introduced the use ofcrystal as a container for drinks, which was more effective than metal goblets. He was an arbiter of fashion and taste. Ziryab's influence is felt to this day, especially in music and food. Prior to his arrival in al-Andalus in 822, there had been no style in food presentation since the Roman Empire. Food was served plainly on platters on bare tables, much as remains the "traditional" style in the middle east to this day. Ziryab changed that. He brought with him many dishes from Baghdad, introduced fine tablecloths and glassware instead of metal goblets, and developed a new order of service for the table. This "more elegant, better-bred and modern style" became established in al-Andalus, thence spread across the Pyrenees to Europe, and became the standard service we still use today. Hence the banquet will be served according to the precepts of Ziryab, and so will differ from the "traditional" style of serving one associates with Islamic food.

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