Sunday, July 19, 2009

In 1969, the Al-Aqsa mosque (Dome of the Rock) in Jerusalem was attacked by a fanatic. Over six websites I Googled, blamed the Israelis' who were indeed under suspicion at the time but the perpetrator was an Australian. . . a Christian cultist who plead insanity at his trial because "God" made him do it". In the blaze that followed, one of the world's most precious works of art, the minbar of Saladin, Salahuddin Al-Ayyoubi, originally installed in 1187, was destroyed. The minbar lay in ashes.

This afternoon after a day of chores and 'working' for Clare, I watched an hour of the Arts on Sunday show on ABC.

There was one small problem after the bombing. Since the industrial revolution, the middle east has been flooded with our ready-made furnishings to the point that the craftsmen who knew how to put these things together have all but disappeared. The guilds have dissolved and many of the ancient trades and knowledge lost. After all, this was a 12th Century stairway to heaven. The program was about the reconstruction of this amazing thing. It was a wooden stairwell upon which the Imam climbed to preach prayers. Ornate beyond belief in truly Saladinian manner and not a nail to be seen. The whole staircase and pulpit were pieces of an incredible geometric and astrological wooden puzzle which fitted together to support it's own weight, astoundingly ornate but a puzzle that remained unsolved until a Bedouin Jordanian Engineer looked carefully.

This Pulpit, considered one of the most beautiful in the World, was made of over 10,000 interlocking pieces of Cedar and other wood, Ivory and mother of pearl affixed without a drop of glue or a single nail. The young Jordanian engineer, entered a competition, no actually entered two competitions to solve the puzzle because the Jordanians didn't believe him in the first instance. He won both and was commissioned to draw the designs for the new Minba.

I was blown away by this little program. The staircase was rebuilt by craftsmen, many trained by the English Prince of Wales charities would you believe. They cut out the thousands of geometrically perfect pieces, carved intricate designs, assembled a giant 3D jigsaw and eventually shipped it back from Jordan to Jerusalem through some of the most troublesome country in the world. Lebanon donated not Ceder but Walnut, the Prince of Wales "School for Traditional Arts" donated expertise and Mathematician Professor Keith, the Jordanian King donated money, and local craftsmen rebuilt it as a sign of their faith. Since Jordan is still a custodian of Jerusalem, the Jordanian King opened its final installation

I learned a lot from this little program about the intellecutalism and faith of Islam . .the real Islam, not what we receive by way of Tabloid news.

All through this lovely and artistic documentary, I was thinking, "What a shame that we think of our middle eastern counterparts as terrorists, anti-feminists (yes there were women working on the project), uncivilised, uneducated, argumentative" . . to me it's like branding all of us in the west as Davidians or Jonesians. It was truly refreshing to see a documentary portraying the middle east as courageous, determined, articulate, gentle, artistic and committed.

Most of all, the cooperation between east and west to get this project up and running was palpable. If only we could do this on the political stage. Let us not tar each other with the same brush. The squeaky wheel gets the most attention but does not necssarily represent the majority. If a thing of such age and beauty can be rebuilt piece by tiny piece through international cooperation, why is world peace such a challenge?

For the purists

For the . .'fucked if I knows' . .but all the paintings are his, sadly, few Aussies even know who he is . .I lovez the Rofster!


lettuce said...

Rolf Harris rocks! he disappeared for a good while here in the UK, but then popped back into view

what a good post - I wish I'd seen this documentary. It is possible, isn't it - understanding and co-operation. which makes the state of the world all the more tragic somehow

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Amen to that, Baino - we view other people and places through the lenses thrust on us by tabloids and fanatics when the reality always is, we are all far more similar than we are different. If we would just use our noodles and ignore the tripe peddled by politicians and other nutters the world would be a far happier place - as your documentary shows.

Ribbon said...

Yep when we step out of the square the world can be an amazing place.

great post... wish I'd seen the show.

best wishes

River said...

That jigsaw staircase truly is amazing. I'd love to see more pictures of it. Google?
I remember racing home from school to see the Rolf Harris show on TV. My brother and I would get our plates of bread and vegemite and sit by the tv without moving for the whole half hour. We loved watching Rolf do those amazing wall sized paintings with just a couple of buckets of paint, then out would come the wobble-board and he'd sing a song relating to the artwork. We also loved his cheeky little sidekick, Shamus O'Sean the Leprechaun.

Brian Miller said...

nice art and catchy tune though i believe it will be stuck in my head all day.

projects like this do make you wonder why we all cant just get along. we can do it on the small stage but as the mass grows it spins out of control.

jay said...

That is indeed amazing! How sad that it was destroyed by a lunatic. :(

Love Rolf - we used to see a lot of him on TV when I was young, and I was always fascinated to watch him paint. So talented, and so irrepressibly cheerful, bless him!

Grannymar said...

For every ONE lunatic we hear about, there at least 10 good people.

That work sounds fantastic, and yes, just think of the world we could have if the same amount of effort was used for our neighbours and fellow men.

Nancy said...


You always introduce me to new artists that I am not acquainted with and wish I had known years ago.

Rolf Harris is so talented. His paintings are wonderful,colorful and varied. I enjoyed looking at them all. And to have that pleasant voice singing such a catchy tune while you viewed the artwork was very special.


subtorp77 said...

Big Amen, Baino! This is why I try to stay away from media hype--THEY...DON'T...KNOW...SOD...ALL! Just a tool of the government to whip up the masses! It gets away from the real truth....

Tom said...

very informative, good post.
As for Stairway, i heard it sooooo many times growing up that i can't even listen to it anymore, just like chocolate milk makes me nasious. Too bad,it's a great song.

Susan at Stony River said...

I so wish I'd seen this documentary. What a terrible loss--but what an incredible gift the loss offered in the coming together of everyone to rebuild. I wish we could see more positive stories about each other too.

Baino said...

Lettuce we had that show here where three painters do someone famous' portraits it was great! Sadly only the oldies remember him here although he had a brief guernsey when he recorded Stairway to Heaven.

I was surprised AV to find out that it was an Aussie who actually did the bombing but several sites still attribute it to the Israelis.

I'm not normally a dayatime TV watcher Ribbon but I do like the arts show if I have a chance.

River that was the best one I could get. I was hoping to find a video of them making all the pices, amazing craftsmanship. Yeh I used to love Rolf too but I watched his kids show in England when I was young.

You never hear about them Brian unless by chance. Shame. I'm really sick of the minority becoming the spokespeople for the majority frankly. And that's how we arrive at our erroneous stereotypes.

Quite an icon in England Jay, less so here though. He's a truly underrated painter though.

True GM but we don't often hear about the other 10!

He is talented Nancy although I first knew him as a children's entertainer. Only later did he receive credit for his paintings.

Yeh, the media has a lot to answer for, the recent Indonesian bombings are all over the news here and they're just 'digging' for information. If they can't find it, they just speculate or ask for people's opinions.

Tom! How can you not like chocolate milk!

Totally amazing cooperation and all springboarded by the Prince of Wales and a Jordanian prince! Who'd have thunk it!

Cinnamon said...

I love the way you linked to programme to the tracks- havn't listened to Stairway to Heaven for years.

The new Minbar sounds lke a sight to behold. What a clever engineer.

laughingwolf said...

great post, baino!

i have many muslim friends and they all denounce the 'islamists' as dragging true islam into the dirt...

harris rocks, always has!

Ronda Laveen said...

There are so many old crafts being lost as our elders die. It is truly a shame. Sounds so intricate. I keep holding out on the side of peace.

kj said...

baino, what an uplifting post. there's not much i can say that hasn't already been said here. but i will thank you for taking the time acknowledge both cooperation and craft.

i think what happens to "us" in the blogs is a good step and example for how different people and cultures can honor their differences and recognize how much alike we really are.

good going, girl.


Renee said...

Dear friend, thank you.

I wish it was something else, and I am afraid of his biopsy.

Love Renee xoxo

nick said...

Well, world peace is a rather bigger project than rebuilding the minbar! And involves any number of competing economic, political, cultural, religious etc. vested interests. It's wonderful when so many different people pull together to restore an amazing work of art like that. And such a tragedy that one demented idiot could destroy it so quickly.

Grow Up said...

Sounds very cool (trust the engineer to get excited about it), must investigate further. Rolf is unknown in Aus? That's, it's, well, huh?

Sarah Lulu said...

Fabulous story ....brings us all closer.

I love stairway ..and chocolate milk!

Leah said...

What an interesting story, Baino!

My experience living in Israel was that the vast majority of people are just sort of trying to go on with their everyday lives. Ideologies aren't constantly flaring when you're shopping for bread and vegetables in the supermarket. This is the same for the Jews, Christians, Muslims. You just don't hear about everyday life, as it's too boring for the papers.

Christopher said...

While I commend the sentiments regarding world peace, I have to add a special word of praise for including Rolf Harris's version of "Stairway To Heaven".

Sometimes I think the world would be a better place if we'd all just take a little more time to listen to Rolf, whether he's singing "Stairway to Heaven" or "Six White Boomers".

Baino said...

Cinnamon it's a great piece of engineering. Islamic art is pretty wonderful all round actually.

Shame Wuffa, the extremists tar all with the same brush. Indonesia is reeling with the latest attack, it kills their tourism and sours relationships with Australia. Such a shame.

Ronda, what ever you think of bonny Prince Charlie, he's very supportive of getting back to our roots in many ways. It's his Charity that's revamping old crafts.

kj that's true but even in the blogs there are many trolls out there with extreme views and nasty predispositions. We're fortunate that our blogs attract a different calibre of person all together.

Renee, chin up hun. I've sent you a little email. I don't pray but I'm sending you warm wishes and comfort from down under.

Nick that it is. I wasn't intending to be naive, people are what they are. Bastards in the main. Call me a dreamer but if we can cooperate internationally on the small things, it's not such a leap to try at the bigger ones. If only we could get the pollies and captains of industry out of the loop. The motivation might be there to be more forgiving and less self-aggrandising.

Grow up, it was quite a feat. He was a very well travelled and qualified engineer and a total geometry freak. You'd have loved his drawings, amazingly intricate. A jordanian beduin dude. Well let's say Rolf isn't well known to the younger generation apart from Animal Hospital.I doubt many are familiar with his songs.

Haha Lulu, can't get away from Stairway even though it's a 70's anthem. I'm a Dare Espresso Iced Coffee girl myself!

Leah you're right. And Jerusalem is the hub, Islam, Christianit and Judaism all mooshed in together and what I didn't know was that Jordan has some sort of custodianship over the place. Hence the Jordanian king opening the Minba. So complex.

Chris you're amazing. You know so much about Aussie (and a heap of other) stuff without having been here. Defo super-librarian!

Megan said...

Here's a quote for you. Sorry it's rather long...

"Know something? Think this over. I could take you to the high country of Peru, and show you where a particular block of stone was quarried, and I could show you that block of stone half a mile away. It was transported there during the time of the Incas. If, on the basis of national emergency, this nation were to be required to devote all its technological skills, all its wealth, and all its people to moving that block back to the quarry, we would try and we would fail, my friend. We have no cranes, no engines, no levers to budge that much mass. Do you think the Incas knew something mankind has since forgotten? Bet on it. Knowledge is the most priceless and perishable substance on earth."