Fountains that could be programmed to switch on and off. A model of an Indian mahout (driver) who struck the half hour on his elephant’s head. Automatons in the form of servants that could offer guests a towel.
These are just some of the marvelous inventions of the 12th-century Muslim inventor Ismail al-Jazari, who laid the groundwork for modern engineering, hydraulics, and even robotics. While some of his lavish and colorful creations were made as novelty playthings for the very wealthy, al-Jazari also made practical machines that helped normal people, including water-drawing devices that were used by farmers for centuries.
Badi al-Zaman Abu al-Izz Ismail ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari was born in 1136 in Diyarbakır in what is today central-southern Turkey. The son of a humble craftsman, he was born in a time of political turmoil, a result of local power struggles as well as the effects of the Crusades.