Abbas ibn Firnas

Abbas ibn Firnas
عباس ابن فرناس
20th century statue of Ibn Firnas outside Baghdad International Airport
Bornc. 810
Ronda, Takurunna province, Emirate of Córdoba
Córdoba, Emirate of Córdoba
Known forAstronomy, engineering, medicine, invention

Abu al-Qasim Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas al-Takurini (Arabic: أبو القاسم عباس بن فرناس بن ورداس التاكرني; c. 809/810 – 887 A.D.), known as Abbas ibn Firnas (Arabic: عباس ابن فرناس) was an Andalusi polymath: an inventor, astronomer, physician, chemist, engineer, Andalusi musician, and Arabic-language poet. He was reported to have experimented with unpowered flight.

Ibn Firnas made various contributions in the field of astronomy and engineering. He constructed a device which indicated the motion of the planets and stars in the Universe. In addition, ibn Firnas came up with a procedure to manufacture colourless glass and made magnifying lenses for reading, which were known as reading stones.


Abbas ibn Firnas was born in Ronda, in the Takurunna province and lived in Córdoba. His ancestors participated in the Muslim conquest of Spain. His full name was "Abu al-Qasim Abbas ibn Firnas ibn Wirdas al-Takurini", although he is better known as Abbas ibn Firnas. There is very little biographical information on him. While the majority of sources describe him as a Umayyad mawlā (client) of Berber origin, some sources describe him as Arab.[unreliable source?][unreliable source?]


Abbas Ibn Firnas devised a means of manufacturing colorless glass, invented various glass planispheres, made corrective lenses ("reading stones"), devised a chain of things that could be used to simulate the motions of the planets and stars, and developed a process for cutting rock crystal that allowed Al-Andalus to cease exporting quartz to Egypt to be cut. He introduced the Sindhind to Al-Andalus, which had important influence on astronomy in Europe. He also designed the al-Maqata, a water clock, and a prototype for a kind of metronome.


Some seven centuries after the death of Firnas, the Algerian historian Ahmad al-Maqqari (d. 1632) wrote a description of Firnas that included the following:

Among other very curious experiments which he made, one is his trying to fly. He covered himself with feathers for the purpose, attached a couple of wings to his body, and, getting on an eminence, flung himself down into the air, when according to the testimony of several trustworthy writers who witnessed the performance, he flew a considerable distance, as if he had been a bird, but, in alighting again on the place whence he had started, his back was very much hurt, for not knowing that birds when they alight come down upon their tails, he forgot to provide himself with one.

Al-Maqqari is said to have used in his history works "many early sources no longer extant", but in the case of Firnas, he does not cite his sources for the details of the reputed flight, though he does claim that one verse in a ninth-century Arab poem is actually an allusion to Firnas's flight. The poem was written by Mu'min ibn Said, a court poet of Córdoba under Muhammad I (d. 886), amir of the Emirate of Córdoba, who was acquainted with and usually critical of ibn Firnas. The pertinent verse runs: "He flew faster than the phoenix in his flight when he dressed his body in the feathers of a vulture." No other surviving sources refer to the event.

It has been suggested that ibn Firnas's attempt at glider flight might have inspired the attempt by Eilmer of Malmesbury between 1000 and 1010 in England, but there is no evidence supporting this hypothesis.

Armen Firman

Armen Firman is the Latinized name of Abbas Ibn Firnas.

According to some secondary sources, about 20 years before Ibn Firnas attempted to fly he may have witnessed Firman as he wrapped himself in a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts and jumped from a tower in Córdoba, intending to use the garment as wings on which he could glide. The alleged attempt at flight was unsuccessful, but the garment slowed his fall enough that he sustained only minor injuries.

However, there is no reference to Armen Firman in other secondary sources, all of which deal exhaustively with Ibn Firnas' flight attempt. Armen Firman is not mentioned in al-Maqqari's account.

As this story was recorded only in a single primary source, al-Maqqari, and since Firman's jump is said to have been Ibn Firnas' source of inspiration, the lack of any mention of Firman in al-Maqqari's account may point to synthesis, the tower jump later confused with Ibn Firnas' gliding attempt in secondary writings.


In 1973, a statue of Ibn Firnas by the sculptor Badri al-Samarrai was installed at the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. In 1976, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) approved of naming a crater on the moon after him as Ibn Firnas. In 2011, one of the bridges going over the Guadalquivir river in Córdoba, Spain, was named the "Abbas Ibn Firnás Bridge". A British one-plane airline, Firnas Airways, was also named after him.

See also

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