Al-Qazwini’s Wonders of Creation


An illustrated copy of the 13th-century writer al-Qazwīnī’s ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt (‘Wonders of creation’) produced in the Deccan, South India, in the 16th century.

al-Qazwīnī’s encyclopaedia

Composed in Iran during the 13th century, al-Qazwīnī’s cosmography became immensely popular as an illustrated encyclopaedia. It was copied many times throughout the Islamic world and translated into Persian and Turkish. Beginning with the world above, it describes first the heavens, stars, constellations and heavenly beings (angels). The second part is dedicated to the earth below, with a geographical account of the seas and the creatures that inhabit them, followed by descriptions of plants, animals, birds, and insects and finally a section on fantastic creatures.

One of the oldest copies is the ‘London Qazwini’ produced in Mosul at the beginning of the 14th century. Qazwīnī’s Wonders was particularly popular in 16th-century India, especially in the Deccan as attested by three almost identical examples in the British Library collections. This copy is one of those, written in Bijapur in the 1570s.

What do we see here?

This copy opens with a beautifully decorated Deccani-style heading and opening (ff. 1v–2r, digitised images 1–2) and includes altogether over 300 illustrations. Some of the most colourful depict the archangels for example Jibrail/Gabriel shown here (f. 39r, digitised image 5), and Israfil with his trumpet (f. 38v, digitised image 4). Among the more terrifying of the sea creatures is the sea dragon (tannīn) which has a head with eyes bigger than its mouth (f. 88r, digitised image 6). The elephant (f. 210, digitised image 7) seems quite benign in contrast!

Full title:
ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt (‘Wonders of creation’), by al-Qazwīnī
16th century, India
al-Qazwīnī, Zakarīyā ibn Muḥammad
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Or 4701

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