Sicilian Embroidered Tiraz

Palermo cathedral, built in the late 12th century, reputedly on top of the remains of a mosque. Palermo cathedral, built in the late 12th century, reputedly on top of the remains of a mosque.

Between AD 872-1072, the Mediterranean island of Sicily was controlled by Muslim rulers. This domination led to a long period of Arab/Muslim influence on local artistic production. It was a period in which many buildings were erected and the capital of Palermo became famous for its academic and religious institutions.

There are numerous references to the wide range of products traded in Sicily under the Arabs, notably textiles, and in a few cases, embroidery. In particular tiraz textiles (cloth items with embroidered or woven inscriptions), were produced here. By the mid-tenth century, for example, there was a quarter in Palermo, which, according to the Arab writer Ibn Hawqal, included a Suq al-Tiraziyin or ‘Market of the Makers of Tiraz-stuffs'.

In AD 1072, an army under the command of the Norman, Roger I, took Palermo from the Muslim rulers. In 1130, Roger II of Sicily (the son of Roger I), raised the status of the island to a kingdom. During this period, Sicily was prosperous and politically powerful, becoming one of the wealthiest kingdoms in Europe. It was also a time when Sicily became even more famous for its embroideries, some of which were produced by Muslim embroiderers for both Arab and Christian clients.

A particularly interesting reference to embroidered tiraz from Norman Sicily comes from the accounts of the Andalusian Arab geographer, Ibn Jubayr (1145-1217), who visited the island in 1184 while making the pilgrimage to Mecca. According to Ibn Jubayr, there was a tiraz factory in the palace of William II, the Good (r: 1166-1189), which also produced gold embroidery.

One of the most spectacular examples of embroidered tiraz to have survived derives from Sicily and is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Inv. XIII 14; RCEA no. 3058). It is the Roger II mantle. The mantle consists of a large semi-circle of red silk (140 x 300 cm). It is embroidered in gold thread and pearls with a central tree separating lions attacking camels. An inscription in Arabic, which is embroidered along the hem, states that it was made in the royal workshop in the capital of Sicily (namely Palermo) in 1133-1134. It would appear that fine textiles and embroideries continued to be produced in Palermo until the thirteenth century.


  • IBN DJUBAIR [JUBAYR], 1845. 'Voyage en Sicile.' Text and translation by M. Amari, Journal Asiatique XIX, p. 35.
  • IBN HAWKAL, 1938-1939. Opus Geographicum, by J.H. Kramers (ed.), 2nd ed., Leiden: Brill, p. 119.
  • SERJEANT, Robert B. (1972). Islamic Textiles: Material for a History up to the Mongol Conquest, Beirut: Librairie du Liban, pp. 191-192.
  • VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, Gillian (2016). 'Embroidered tiraz', in: Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood (ed.), Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World, London: Bloomsbury, pp. 140-150, esp. p. 148.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 5 June 2016).


Last modified on Saturday, 15 April 2017 18:43
More in this category: « Tiraz