From the Curator

Why Jazari and his Extraordinary Machines?

First and foremost, for mankind the making of tools was a matter of life and death. We were strangers to the Earth, so we built upon it a world in which we would be safer. Our technical and mechanical imagination was our most critical skill in building this world. For us, the story of mechanics starts with the wheel, which was not only a rotating mechanism, but also a ground-breaking mechanism; an innovation. Along with the wheel, we paved roads and built an enormous house on this planet, to which we were previously strangers.

Our exhibition looks upon the process of the shaping of our world through mechanics. This is why our first section deals with prehistoric and ancient times, which were the most difficult conditions for mankind. In the “Life and Survival” section, along with the story of the wheel, there are milestones of the mechanical history of China, Egypt, Greece/Rome and the early Islamic period.

The main story of the exhibition focuses on Jazari, the chief engineer of the Artuqid Palace 800 years ago. Jazari is at the center of mechanical history, so he is the main story of our exhibition. He is one of the greatest geniuses of all time who lived on the fertile lands between the Euphrates and Tigris, the center of the world and civilization. The time period from 1150-1200s coincides with a critical chronological point in history. On the other hand, with the change he gave way to in mechanics, Jazari resides in the center among those before him and those preceding him in terms of informational sustainability.

In order to understand the mechanics of Jazari, it is necessary to understand the political figures of the period. As a matter of fact, the Artuqid state where Jazari was living was located in a chaotic political basin of the time and geography. A balance policy between the Ayyubids and the Seljuks was being carried out and a strong line of battle was being built against the Crusaders and Byzantine raids. This state organized multilayered strategic relationships with other small principalities in the surrounding area, and even within its own branches and its cosmopolitan peoples. In spite of all this chaos, it was an artful prosperous state, and with this prosperity, it blossomed into an intellectual environment where architecture, art and science shone. As a result of the state’s encouragement for art and science within the framework of the visionary of the Artuqid Sultans, Jazari had protection from the palace for 25 years and thus was enabled to make magnificent machines and write a significant book which has reached the present day; Kitab-ul Hiyal. In this context, we have constructed our “Chaos and Order” section at the exhibition in order to explain the connection between Kitab-ul Hiyal and this extraordinary story of the Artuqids.

Jazari, along with his numerous innovations in mechanics, transformed his machines into works of art by using them as a tool to tell a story and this is displayed in the “Art and Technique” section of our exhibition. Art was an indispensable medium in which mechanics found life according to Jazari. In the world created by Jazari, art was the space of the machine in a way that did not trivialize the function of the machine. In Jazari’s machines, art was not an ornamental element. However, naturally, because they were machines that operated in the palace, they were ostentatious enough to reflect this prestige. However, the main element that made the machines artistic was their attempt to tell a story. By sparking a sense of humour which aimed to awaken marvel and admiration, he expanded the mechanics through his storytelling efforts. This abstract effort did not limit the machines targets to function, but allowed them to push the limits in mechanics. In this way, the important mechanical elements that are today found in the foundations of modern mechanics appeared in Jazari’s mechanics.

In addition, artistic endeavors also brought forth new ideas. The desire to tell stories with machines seemed to be the source of Jazari’s envisioning of the human image within the context of the machine. For example, in order to make us surprised and laugh, Jazari introduced machines that resembled us, figures of us, to perform, though limited, our tasks for us. As a result of his effort to produce humour or games, Jazari was able to produce the first ancestors of android robots in the form of machines in which all of the parts of its mechanism were completely hidden within the body, which stood on their own feet, and with the aim of being in human form and shape and undistinguishable from humans.

Another area of work in which Jazari has affected modern mechanics was water lifting mechanisms. It is a well-known fact that the Artuqids put a high importance on agricultural production within the framework of welfare policies particularly regarding mechanisms that lifted water from waterways and deep valleys to high fields. During the Artuqid period, typical devices used to lift water in the relevant geography were available, however, by developing far more advanced technologies, Jazari was able to increase the water lifting capacity, according to the device used, by 10-20 times. In this context, it is necessary to point out the three mechanisms that are directly related to modern mechanics; the crankshaft, the machine which lifted water from wells, draws attention due to the fact that it was used for the first time, the four-bucket water-lifting machine, from which the idea of ​​mechanical phases was introduced and which inspired four-stroke engines, and lastly, the double-action double-piston water lifting pump, which can be considered the father of the Worthington Pump. In an separate section where prosperity originating from water is displayed, all these water machines and the like are interactively presented to visitors, while at the same time the historical story of lifting water is also explained.

Another story that our exhibition tells alongside its mechanical history is the story of the measurement of time. It can be seen that Jazari’s machines are accompanied by his philosophical quest as well as his artistic sense. Jazari grew up in a time when mankind looked at the big and beautiful clock in the sky to measure the time. The sun dial was a method developed by man that was depend on nature to follow time and to organize daily rituals. However, this dependence stemmed from the fact that mankind is in a constant state of time. The concept of time, fueled by the sun dial, presented a framework that surrounded and imprisoned humans. Moreover, the lack of sensitivity of the sun dial forced man to surrender to a day of light due to various uncertainties. The sensitivity that Jazari sought using the flow of water involved both severing the connection between time and the sun as well as succeeding to bring time down from the sky and into our palms by means of having successfully accomplishing sensitivity. The Memorial Water Clock, also known as the Astronomical Clock of Jazari, can also be seen as another challenge for this philosophical endeavor. In this mechanism, Jazari responded to the challenge of the sun by using water mechanics and made a sun dial that worked using water. By making an analogue water computer capable of following the sun’s changing schedule every day during the year, he precisely followed the time of the sun without using any reference to heat, light or shadows from the sun, and succeeded in securing it between gears. Jazari’s clock mechanics aimed at conquering a full 24-hour day rather than succumbing to daylight hours. In fact, this aspect of the story became clear in Europe where mechanical clocks appeared through the discovery of the pendulum. Mankind stepped out of his place in time and walked outside of it.

In this respect, during the post-Jazari period, mechanical science took advantage of the knowledge from Jazari and went beyond his artistic endeavor to turn the resistance against the world into an attack. The final part of the exhibition, with the name of “Attack,” includes the story of how time was precisely measured, beginning with Jazari’s time and into Ottoman and Renaissance Europe, and draws attention to other characteristics of the mechanics of this period. In our opinion, the final element of mechanics, before it turned into industrial technology, was the steam machine. For that reason, the steam machine is the last display at the exhibition. The main importance of the steam machine according to us is its analogy in terms of the feedback logic, between the centrifugal pump the “governor” and the water regulator developed for the astronomical clock by Jazari. This analogy contributes to the story of our exhibition in terms of showing how important small ideas can be.

According to us, Jazari was the greatest genius of The Middle Ages. He is an inspiration for us. 800 years ago, he developed his devices to surprise people of the times but also continues to amaze people today. This exhibition can also be considered as fulfillment of our commitment to Jazari, who resides in the heart of mechanical history and contributed to the creation of the modern world with his vast knowledge and experience. I also have great happiness in the fact that we have fulfilled our promise to my father Durmus Caliskan, the great engineer who dedicated the last years of his life to working day in and day out in order to give life again to Jazari’s machines and for Jazari to be understood and appreciated.

Mehmed Ali Çalışkan