The Ornament of the World

by María Rosa Menocal
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Foreign Dignitaries at the Courts of Castile Summary

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Last Updated on April 9, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 282

In 1364, the historian Ibn Khaldun arrived in Seville to visit Peter of Castile (Peter the Cruel). Peter had just finished a new palace, heavily influenced by Islamic decoration and architecture. Ibn Khaldun had traveled to many of the formerly Islamic, now Christian cities and had just come from the only existing Islamic city in Spain: Granada. Menocal suggests that his travels must have influenced his writing and wonders what this historian must have made of the new civilizations being built on top of the old. Years before, Ibn Khaldun had escaped his home of Fez to live in Granada and had ingratiated himself with the ruler there, Muhammad V. Muhammad send Ibn Khaldun to Seville to speak to Peter, who was battling his half-brother for the right to the throne in Castile. Although Peter wanted Ibn Khaldun to stay, Ibn Khaldun was hoping to become Muhammad’s adviser and returned to Granada. Muhammad’s acting adviser had Ibn Khaldun exiled from Granada, to which he could never return.

By 1364, the Christian colonizers had made Seville their own, appropriating many of the remnants of Muslim culture there for their own purposes. Thus, much of the old Muslim scripts and architectural styles remained in Seville, and even new buildings and additions were crafted with an Arabic style. Meanwhile, Toledo had a thriving Jewish community that also admired the Arabic style. A synagogue, recently built by the Jewish Abulafia, was even adorned with Arabic writing and quotations from the Quran. Though Abulafia was eventually accused of embezzlement and executed, and the Jewish population decimated shortly thereafter by a change in leadership, the synagogue serves as a testament to the unity between Jews and Arab culture.

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