Off the map

Medina Mayurqa was wiped off the map a couple of times. One of the greatest destructions is associated with the Pisan and Catalan armies in collaboration with Florence, some Occitan cities and Genova (the latter almost only for having its share from the prey and from the devastation of the island). This coalition attacked the kingdom called the Eastern Islands of Al-Andalus and its seat, Medina Mayurqa to put an end to the Mayurqan – that is, Saracen – piracy that had under its control the shipping routes in the western basin of the Mediterranean, as well as to free a large number of Christian prisoners. The enterprise began in 1113 and lasted until mid-1115. The attackers returned to their home countries only after it was reported that a powerful Almoravid fleet was going to sail out from the ports of North Africa for the liberation of the island. A chronicle has also survived which recounts all the history in great detail from the beginning to theend, the Liber Maiolichinus de Gestis Pisanorum Illustribus (full text available here). A shorter summary of the events is also found in the Gesta triumphalia per pisanos facta. Although after the attack the city was rebuilt in even greater splendor, nevertheless the tabula rasa realized 114 years later among the non-Christian monuments by James I, conqueror of the island and his heirs led to the fact that today only scarce remnants of the former Islamic religious architecture can be seen in Mallorca.

Nevertheless, two particularly large and respected architectural fragments of the one-time Medina Mayurqa are curiously to be found among the world’s most visited architectural monuments. Every year several million people visit, photograph, film, draw and stand agape in front of them… and they go unnoticed. Looking at them is not the same as seeing them.

Fom the ancient mosque standing near to Palma’s royal palace, the Almudaina, the Pisans took with themselves the bronze doors and two beautiful columns of red porphyry. These latter were donated to Florence, as a payment for protecting Pisa in their absence from the military threat of the neighboring Lucca. This is how we read it in the Florentine Domenico Silvestri (1335-c. 1442), author of one of the most important Humanist island registers, the De insulis et earum proprietatibus. In the chapter dedicated to Mallorca Silvestri added this comment around 1389 to the Pisan crusade against the Balearic Islands:
Maiorica sive Maiolica insula est in Hispano mari sita inter Minoricam et Ebusum insulas, cui rex Aragonum dominatur. De hac etiam vide supra in Balearibus. Hec quidem non sinit e memoria labi quam fluxu temporis res variantur in peius et a virtute differant. Ducenti quippe duo et septuaginta sunt anni et ultra ex quo inter Pisanum et Florentinum communia adeo validum ac potens amicitie vinculum erat, ut propriam patriam unum relinquens, alteri servandam tutandamque commicteret. Siquidem eo tempore Pisani, ab infidelibus hanc insulam habitatam, sepe lacessiti utpote qui tunc temporis potentissimi ultra ceteros erant, maximam classem armamentis instructam eorum iniuriam ultum iri ad hanc insulam traiecerunt, ante timentes ne Lucani, cum quibus ea tempestate dissidebant, eorum viris vacuam urbem invaderent, presidio Florentinorum eius custodiam commiserunt, qui cum equitum armatorumque copia, per duo milia passuum prope Pisas rati ad hoc ibi sufficiens esse castra posuere, et ut mulierum pudicitia etiam a suspictione foret aliena et ne rerum ablatio, forte ut sepe fit in similibus, posset contingere, capitale edictum est ne quis urbem ingrederetur; quod unus trasgrediens a capitaneo Florentinorum laqueo suspensus est. Pisani vero reversi victoriam adepti magnis preda et spoliis opulenti, Florentinis gratiarum actionibus actis, dederunt obtionem eisdem utrum valvas ereas an columnas porfirias, quas in signum victorie attulerant, magis vellent. Columnas, cum petiissent, purpura coopertas trasmisere, que usque in hunc diem ante basilicam Sancti Iohannis apparent. Sunt qui dicunt quosdam ex Pisanis eas valvas nobilissimas reputantes livore motos igne fumoque denigrasse. Quid ad tanta tanta rerum mutatione dicemus ut de tam singulari confidentia in tam suspicionem maximam sit deflexum et tam sincere amicitie fides in tam ardens odium sit conversa? (From the complete edition by J. M. Montesdeoca )

The island of Maiorica or Maiolica is located on the Hispanic Sea, between the islands of Minorica [Menorca] and Ebusum [Ibiza], which are all subjects to the King of Aragon. Concerning it, see what we wrote above on the Balearic Islands. This island is reminiscent of how things can turn worse by the time and how they move away from the virtue. Indeed, two hundred and sixty-two years ago the Pisans and the Florentines were linked together by so strong ties of sincere friendship that when one of them left his country, entrusted the other to guard and protect it. Since at that time the Pisans were often attacked from that island inhabited by infidels, in spite of being stronger than anyone else, they equipped a large fleet to avenge the injuries, and sailed to the island. They were afraid, however, that the Luccans with whom they had conflicts at that time would attack the empty city in their absence, they entrusted the guard of it to the Florentines who, with a large number of horsemen and armed people set camp where they judged it sufficient, some two thousand steps from Pisa. And to avoid any suspicion on the integrity of women and any theft which is not uncommon in such situations, they announced that whoever would go into the town will pay with his head. And indeed the captain of the Florentines commanded someone to be hung up for having entered the city. And the Pisans returning with a glorious victory and a rich booty, having said thanks to the Florentines, offered them to choose between the two great bronze doors and the two columns of porphyry they brought with them as a sign of victory. The Florentines choose the purple-colored columns which are still visible in front of the Basilica of St. John. Some say that certain Pisans, considering these very noble, turned them into black with fire and smoke out of envy. So what shall we say about such a great change of things, when so much confidence turned to such an odd suspicion and so sincere friendship to so much hatred?
Much later the illustrious Cardinal Egidius de Viterbo (1469-1532) also referred to these events: “Liberatus Pontifex Pisanos in Agarenos animat. Illi gloriae piissimae cupiditate incesi non nisi victores redeunt. Dum absunt, Lucenses Pisas occupant: Florentini impium id factum rati, Lucenses vi pellunt, Pisani victores non inmemores beneficii duas columnas porphyreticas mittunt patriae servatoribus, perpetuum, et Florentinae pietatis, et Pisanae gratitudinis monumentum” (Bishop Liberatus incited the Pisans against the Saracens, and they, flared up by the desire of pious glory, returned winners from the war. In their absence the Luccans attacked Pisa, but the Florentines considering this an impious act ousted them by force. The victorious Pisans were not ungrateful, but set two columns of porphyry at the defenders of their country as eternal memories to Florentine piety and to Pisan gratitude.”) (Aegidius Card. Viterbiensis, Historia 20. saeculorum). The Liber maiolichinus, however, does not mention either the hostility with Lucca, or the story of the two columns.
The columns, once of a brilliant porphyry red color, by now have turned black as if fire had burned them. The fact that they were set to such an eminent place of the city of Florence as the eastern facade of the famous Baptistery of St. John (which gained its current appearance between 1059 and 1128) illustrates the importance attached to them. They stayed here also after Lorenzo Ghiberti in 1452 installed between them the gilded bronze door of the Baptistery called “the Gate of Paradise”.

School of Giorgio Vasari (16th c.): Procession in Piazza San Giovanni. Fresco in the
Sala Gualdrada of the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence. The Mallorcan columns
flank the route of the procession into the Baptistery.

In this picture we can still observe the red color of the columns. Many legends have survived on how it turned black. According to one of them, on their original place, in the mosque of Mallorca these columns had a magical power: if someone passed in front of them who was guilty of robbery or treason, his image was reflected on them as sharply as on the purest crystal. The Pisans knew about this feature – for ultimately they, too, were robbers –, and they hesitated whether it was wise to give such a powerful gift to a city which at any time might become their enemy. Finally they decided to give over the columns, but to previously deprive them of all their magic power, which they did through the purifying force of fire. Whatever happened, it is not just their dark color that proves them having been once exposed to fire, but also the cracks caused by the heat so that by the time they had to be confirmed with iron rings against falling down.

The traveler roaming the streets of a city and trying to understand the city sees himself reflected in the city. The traveler tries to rob the city of her secrets, he wants to guard them in his look, to become wiser by them. He prays that not a single corner would justify the images he had brought with him. Florence, the extraordinary Florence has been already recorded, described and analyzed by thousands of books like a butterfly stuck on a pin. But the traveler still knows that this city, that any city can never be definitely understood, just as one cannot definitely understand himself, that the butterfly is nothing but the flight of the butterfly.

Further signs on the walls of Florence

2 comentarios:

Mel dijo...

Love this blog!

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks a lot! Come back to visit soon.