Thanks to a grant from the Fondation Max van Berchem for the "Epigraphy and building in Umayyad al-Andalus" project, we have been able to go from a theoretical design to practical realisation.

Genesis of the project

Our interest in the physical formation of Umayyad al-Andalus has led us to consider data from written sources as part of a study of constructions built there between 711 and 1013. Various partial essays dealing with historical chronicles and geographical descriptions were sufficiently revealing to encourage us to compile and examine all the information which such sources could provide in this connection. The idea subsequently arose of also analysing construction inscriptions, i.e. those which make reference to some aspect of the construction of a building, or part of a building, its patron or its builders. This was because inscriptions, compared with historical and geographical sources, provide information on a greater variety of buildings, and from more points of view. They are, in short, a direct, first-hand source (with all that this implies) as well as being a magnificent, attractive hybrid of written and material source which spawns philological, historical and archaeological questions. Max van Berchem inevitably come to mind in this connection.


Building inscription

J. Souto. Building inscription in the Tortosa dockyard (333/24 August 944-12 September 945). Drawing : J.A. Souto

First results

By 1997 we had references of nearly all the Umayyad Andalusi inscriptions which had been conserved and published. In order to develop a catalogue on which to base any form of study, it was necessary to create a systematic data base of all the inscriptions, including description, text, translation, graphical and morphosyntactical anomalies and peculiarities, publications, and illustrations. However, for the record and catalogue to be reliable, it was also necessary to examine the inscriptions one by one, since several checks in the field during the summer of 1996 had revealed that neither the published data nor the replies to our survey that year of over one hundred museums and collections were 100 % reliable or complete.
The grant enabled us to make decisive progress in this direction: between September 1997 and September 1998, we developed a first version of our catalogue of inscriptions involving both desk and field work, including visits to private and public collections and museums in Spain, Portugal and Germany. The catalogue now contains 132 entries plus some more relating to inscriptions of doubtful content or which cannot be accurately dated or are pending direct examination.


Double lapidary mark

J. Souto. Double lapidary mark on a fust in al-Mansur's extension of the Jami' Mosque of Cordoba : 'Amal Fath, “Work of Fath”
(photo : Maria J. Rodriguez et J. Souto)

It is worth noting that one of the most interesting examinations in the field was of the lapidary signs on the Jami' Mosque of Cordoba. That great Spanish epigraphist, Manuel Ocaña, compiled and published 309 engravings on the columns of the extensions made by the Caliph al-Hakam II ( 961-76) and the hajib al Mansur (976-1002). When we checked these signs for inclusion as an appendix to our catalogue, we were able to increase the inventory to over 690. These marks are undoubtedly the signatures of the masons who carved the elements of the columns. There are Arabic epigraphic marks, Roman epigraphic and non-epigraphic marks of various types, in addition to three geometric drawings. These marks raise some extremely interesting questions: for example, many of the names carved on the columns appear not only in other inscriptions contained in the catalogue but also in other historical sources which refer to construction work in al-Andalus during the period. Evidently, the al-Hakam II and al-Mansur phases contain marks which are common to both plus others which are exclusive to each one. Another question which arises is the matter of the Roman letters and the non-epigraphic signs in this context.


Double lapidary mark on a fust in al Mansur s extension

J. Souto. Double lapidary mark on a fust in al-Mansur's extension of the Jami' Mosque of Cordoba : Roman letters >EO<.
(photo : Maria J. Rodriguez et J. Souto)

The immediate future

We expect to complete the catalogue shortly and to draw up its indices. There will be onomastical, toponymical and lexical indices, indices of Koranis quotations, and of formulae and expressions which appear repeatedly. With this tool in hand, we will then undertake a critical examination of the documentation thus compiles and of construction work in al-Andalus seen through this documentation.
We should not forget that this project on epigraphy and building is part of a broader project on building in/of Umayyad al-Andalus through written sources. Therefore, it is but a single step - though a very important one - on a long and exciting road.