Arabic Studies Lecture: Leo Africanus

Date / Time

April 23, 2021

3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


After the fall of Muslim Granada in 1492, many prominent families there preferred to migrate to North Africa rather than live under the rule of the victorious Catholic monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand. One such family was the Wazzans, the family of Hassan al-Fasi al-Gharnati, later known as Leo Africanus. He emigrated to and grew up in Fez, Morocco, where he became a skilled scholar and diplomat.

At age 24, on his way to Istanbul, his ship was attacked, and he was captured and sold as a slave to the Vatican. There, he appears to have converted to Christianity. Pope Leo X took him under his protection and said about him, “A man with art and knowledge is always welcomed among us.” He stayed in Italy for 30 years, during which time he composed the Description of Africa, a book that many explorers and geographers used as a source of information about Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa. His life is an illustration of the fluidity of scholarship between the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean, even when the tides of war between Muslim and Christian countries (e.g., the Ottoman and the Spanish empires) were rising.

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