UAE: Rare collection of ancient books on Arab-Portuguese ties on display at SIBF

The exhibit retraces the Portuguese presence in the Gulf and the relations established during those days


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Photos: M. Sajjad/KT
Photos: M. Sajjad/KT

Published: Sun 5 Nov 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Nov 2023, 11:15 PM

At the centre of the Sharjah International Book Fair venue, a special attraction is on display for the visitors showcasing the role of the Gulf region during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The exhibit retraces the Portuguese presence in the Gulf and the relations established during those days. It offers an understanding of the history of the Portuguese empire in Asia and the importance of the Gulf for Europe.

The exhibit showcases the last moments of the Portuguese presence in the Arabian Peninsula. A signed peace treaty was presented here, between Portuguese authorities and the local sheikh, likely an ancestor of the current ruler of Sharjah.

The exhibit is divided into six sections giving viewers a rare glimpse of the voyages and navigation, with cartographic images that aesthetically capture the region’s pristine beauty and wealth.

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The first section of the exhibition starts with the maritime navigation and the arrival of Portuguese in the Gulf highlighting the essential contribution from the Islamic world – the voyages of Ibn Batuta and the works of Ahmed Ibn Majid. It also displays the experience of nautical science and shipbuilding in the Iberian world, which made these maritime ventures possible.

The second section includes a brief quotation from a work by Duarte Barbosa which describes Asia at the beginning of the sixteenth century and explores the evolution of the image of the Gulf. The charts from the Miller Atlas and Fernão Vaz Dourado's atlas showcase the evolution of the accurate representation of the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean. A model of the fortress of Khor Kalba presents the results of recent archaeological campaigns conducted there with the support of the authorities of Sharjah.

The Third section is dedicated to the important work of Duarte Barbosa, written in the early sixteenth century which describes the entire Gulf region and the Indo-Pacific axis in great depth. The section also displays the oldest manuscript copies, dispersed from Portugal, Spain, and the Emirate of Sharjah. The map included in this section was drawn in Seville in 1532 and shows descriptive information collected from the work of Duarte Barbosa.

The fourth section shows the author's perspective describing the Gulf and sea that surrounds it. It demonstrates an understanding of the Gulf, recording and documenting Portuguese actions, the nature of the descriptions from that era. The displayed book in this section narrates the journeys in the Gulf and two Persian chronicles about the region that the author collected.

The fifth section uses quotes from the 1572 Portuguese poem ‘The Lusiads’ by Luís Vaz de Camões which aims to present the political, diplomatic, and military process whereby the Portuguese became established in the region. It also showcases two 16th-century letters written in Arabic from the Hormuz document

The last section is dedicated to the importance of the Gulf's trade and reveals the Portuguese administrative organisation. Two descriptions of routes from the Gulf to Europe via Basra showcase the importance of these connections. A 1553 portrait of Princess Joana Morais is showcased here which illustrates the use and importance of Gulf pearls, featured in her hair jewellery.


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