In the eighth century, the scientific and philosophical legacy of the ancient world was translated into Arabic. The Abbasid Caliphs( r. 750–1258) established the endowed institution, the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma) in Baghdad, their capital, to facilitate translation and engage in scientific activity. By the tenth century, much of the Hellenistic intellectual legacy as well as materials from ancient Iran and India were available in Arabic.
In the the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, another transfer of knowledge took place, this time from Arabic into Latin, resulting in a significant portion of Islamic philosophical and scientific learning made available to medieval European scholars. The first college of translators from Arabic into Latin was established in Toleda by Don Raimundo, the Archbishop of Toledo from 1126 to 1151. A Benedictine monk, Raimundo was convinced of the importance of the Arab philosophers’ understanding of Aristotle’s works, and decided to make their works available in Latin.
The co-existence of Muslims, Christians, and Jews facilitated the development of the translation school. Translations were made not only of the original Greek works that had been translated into Arabic, but also of works by Islamic scholars who came to be known by their Latinized names of Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Averroes (Ibn Rushd), Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham), Rhazes (al-Razi), and others. Many of the works of these scholars had a significant influence on Europe; for example, Avicenna’s Canon was the medical textbook for European medical schools, Alhazen’s Optics was the foundation upon which Kepler built the modern science of optics.
Among the prominent Toledan translators was Gerard of Cremona (1114-1187). Thanks to a brief note left by his pupils on his life and work, we know that Gerard came to Toledo after finishing his studies in Italy, in order to learn more about the Almagest. This vast astronomical treatise by Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy), the celebrated second-century Greek astronomer, mathematician and geographer, was only available in Arabic at that time. In Toledo, Gerard discovered a multitude of scientific works in Arabic and began to learn the language so as to read them and, later, to render them into Latin.
The city of Toledo has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage.
Thomas Burman. “Islam in Spain and Western Europe,” The Muslim Almanac Edited by Azim A. Nanji. Gale Research Inc. Detroit. 1996
Abdurrahman Badawi, “The Toledo school,” UNESCO Courier. December 1991
Research by Nimira Dewji