Abu Hasan Ali ibn Naif, better known as Zaryab (789-857 AD) was one of the most famous musicians and teachers in Cordoba in Islamic Spain. According to Shoja el-Din Shafa in his well-researched book, “Iran in Islamic Spain,” Zaryab came from the Fars province of Iran, and later moved to Baghdad.
He achieved great fame in the Abbasid Court in Baghdad as a student of the renowned Iranian musician and composer, Ishaq al-Mawsili. A polymath, Zaryab had knowledge of astronomy, geography, meteorology, botanic, cosmetics, music, culinary arts and fashion. He left Baghdad, traveling first to Syria and then to Tunisia, after which he was invited to Al-Andalus by the Umayyad prince, Al-Hakim (ruled 796-822).
He settled in Cordoba and soon began to introduce standards of excellence in food, fashion and music. He established a school of music which taught both male and female musicians who would influence Andalusian music for generations. He is also considered the founder of the Andalusian musical traditions of North Africa.
He is said to have improved the Oud by adding a fifth pair of strings. He dyed four strings in a color that symbolized Aristotelian humors and the fifth string was to represent the soul. According to Henri Tarrasse, a French historian, legend attributes winter and summer clothing styles and the “luxurious dress of the Orient” found in Morocco today to Zaryab.
It has been said that he created a new type of deodorant to get rid of bad odors and promoted morning and evening baths, emphasizing the importance of personal hygiene.
He is said to have invented an early toothpaste which he popularized throughout Islamic Spain. He changed the local cuisine by introducing new fruits and vegetables like asparagus and popularized shaving among men and using salt and fragrant oils to wash hairs.
Zaryab is said to have revolutionized the court at Cordoba and made it the stylistic capital of its time, changing it for generations to come. Through the genius of men like him, for a span of two generations, Cordoba was the finest, most glittering metropolis in all of Europe.
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