Mare Nostrum

Tom Bowers sees the launch of a new EU-backed website as a positive force in bridging cultural and historical divisions.

The Mediterranean, once the unifying heart of the Roman empire, became a border between ‘West’ and ‘East’, between the worlds of Christianity and Islam. Recently, though, the European Union, which is placing cultural awareness and political cooperation with the Muslim world at the forefront of its heritage agenda, has looked at the Mediterranean as the focus for sharing ideas and cultural heritage. One means of doing this is via a newly launched website, Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean ( which features a vast array of treasures online from the great Islamic dynasties of the past. The website, translated into eight different languages, concen­trates on Mediterranean heritage from the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus in AD 661 (AH 41) up to 1922 (AH 1340) and the fall of the Ottomans.

The aim of the project is to demonstrate how a shared past can unite people with different beliefs and, more specifically, that Islam had a formative impact on the development of European culture. The scheme is a collaboration between forty museums from fourteen North African, Middle East­ern and European countries, including Cairo’s Islamic Art Museum, the Archaeological Museum in Rabat, the British Museum and National Museums of Scotland. Each museum has contributed expertise from their curators, and artefacts, none of which had physically to be moved to create the exhibition.

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