Arab world – famous for its deserts
The Arab world is, of course, famous for its deserts. Think of the Syrian Desert, the Western Desert in Egypt and Libya, the Iraqi desert between Jordan and Baghdad, the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula. The Empty Quarter is the biggest sand desert in the world, reaching into several countries and the size of France, Belgium and the Netherlands together. Most famous of all is the Sahara Desert.
Visitors enjoy the silence in the desert
Foreign visitors to the Arab world will find some of their most memorable experiences in the desert. In many countries, especially the Gulf countries, there are excellent facilities for visitors to enjoy the experience of a weekend living under canvas in the desert, but without the discomfort that the Bedouin used to experience. In this way you can have the extraordinary pleasure of being able to sense the total silence of the desert at night.
Observing the night sky in the desert and astronomers in the Middle East
You will also find how revealing it is to observe the night sky. In the darkness you can see how vividly stars and constellations stand out when there is no light pollution. This reminds us how it came to be that the Arabs were among the leading astronomers in the Middle Ages. al-Battani (c. 858-929) influenced the thinking of people like Copernicus and Galileo.
The skill of the Arabs in observing the motions of the stars was also crucial in their developing navigation skills at sea. From as early as the 7th century AD Arab seafarers were, according to tradition, able to make their way from Oman to India, but also to East Africa, navigating by the stars.
In the 20th century, in fact, Tim Severin, studying the legend of Sindbad the Sailor, made a famous expedition with local sailors from Oman to China. He used a near-perfect replica of the typical medieval Omani sailing boat, constructed using only traditional tools and the skills of Omani shipbuilders. His expedition was funded by the Sultan of Oman.
Such was the skill of the Omanis that the Portuguese explorers of the 15th century, such as Vasco da Gama, are believed to have employed one particular Omani sailor, Ahmad bin Majid,
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