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Since the beginning of the 8th century when the Arabs first settled in the Iberian Peninsula, up until the end of 15th century, Christians, Jews and Muslims exchanged information and cultural influences within the domains of al-Andalus. During this time, there was a dramatic increase in books produced with unique features. When the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon persecuted the Arabs, the majority of these books were burned or damaged, with a few exceptions that were hidden or relocated for safekeeping.

As part of the research project, “New analytical technologies for the understanding of materials and production techniques in Arabic manuscripts of al-Andalus” (CTQ2005–07717), researchers from different fields studied the methods and materials utilised in the production of books found in different Spanish collections. We found that among the examples produced in al-Andalus that characterize the traditional materials and methods associated with Islamic bindings, certain examples follow a distinct and consistent structure, albeit with certain variations in covering materials, end band sewing, and text block dimensions. This distinct structural element consists of one contiguous piece of fabric that lines the internal side of the covers and creates a natural hollow spine. Contrary to the generally-held view that the covers were made independently from the text block, our research found that in some manuscripts, the covers were made together with their text blocks. This variety of techniques for Islamic bindings refutes the idea that covers were made independently from text blocks. This discovery has subsequently been described in other works by Kristine Rose1 in respect of Turkish bindings and by Karin Scheper2 in broader areas of the Islamic world and relating to different periods. Interestingly, this structure has certain features reminiscent of later Coptic covers. Since this hybrid is clearly the result of a cross-cultural exchange within the region at the time, we have named it the Andalusi binding.

We have identified a small number of codices from the 14th–16th centuries that have these characteristics. They originate from different geographic locations within the historical domains of al-Andalus. There seems to have been a specific type of binding associated with al-Andalus during the later centuries of the Arabic occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. We expect that other bindings with similar features will be discovered that will confirm this hypothesis.

In: Journal of Islamic Manuscripts