The Time Keeper of Damascus by Michael Mizzi

by | Feb 23, 2024 | Author | 0 comments

While researching my family tree I came across a person with the same surname as me who lived in Damascus.

He was Muhammad ibn Ahmad AL-Mizzi, the muwaqqit (official time-keeper) of The great Umaayad Mosque of Damascus. The muwaqqit is responsible for determining the correct times for Muslim prayer, which must be carried out five times a day at specific intervals. He was also a maker of Astrolabes. One of his original Astrolabes is pictured below.

So as I pondered such a strange connection with this man I began to write the Time Keeper of Damascus, using his person as the template for one of the main characters. Al-Mizzi was an Astrolabe maker. The instrument combines geometry and trigonometry to resolve problems of spherical astronomy. A photo of one of his Astrolabes is held at the British Museum.

As the story began I created Ophelia Trieste, an orphaned Italian woman from Trieste who found herself in Damascus working as a slave. It is really her story I am telling.

The story commences in 12th century Damascus where the Imam is virtual ruler and the Mosque the centre of daily life. But my concern was for Ophelia and her travails, wins, successes and losses as she starts her journey into the amazing world of the Astrolabe. As the story developed I decided to add a modern dimension to it.

The Astrolabe was one of the fundamental instruments of the medieval period used for time telling, navigation and observing the stars and planets and their positions in the sky. The science associated with it led to several modern spheres of knowledge including Astronomy. Current Astronomy and physics are identifying forces in our universe which go beyond our everyday senses and the connection to the Astrolabe remains well established.

In this way I have been able to expand the original plot of the novel and take the reader into different realms and dimensions alongside Ophelia whose journey through time and space takes many fascinating turns and by-roads.

She finds herself embroiled in several historical events in which the Astrolabe and its modern offshoot plays a decisive role in getting her there and back. She is also often embroiled in love affairs.

Ophelia goes from being a slave to a free woman who becomes rich and powerful on the back of her inheritance back in Italy. She falls in love with an Arabic sea captain and they part unwillingly. But there is one person who pulls at her heart strings who she resolves to see again, the son she left behind in Damascus.

My interest in writing goes back to my childhood where I would write stories of adventure and drama for my own entertainment.

As a life long professional Photographer I have always been interested in the sciences of optical physics and chemistry. There was a time when photos were made in darkrooms and cameras and were not in mobile phones. This was my life up unto the unstoppable progress of technology made all those instruments obsolete. This is why I became fascinated with the Astrolabe. Old gadgets have always interested me. I also became fascinated with Al-Mizzi.

So the story took on a life of its own as more and more people entered the plot.

Book one of the trilogy sets the scene for the rest of the tale though in itself it is a complete story. But there is so much more for me to write and I decided to give myself the less limiting format of several books rather than one big one. I am writing book two now and outlines for book three. In this way I hope to take the reader on the journey with Ophelia to find out who is the Time Keeper of Damascus.


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