BuAli Sina Mausoleum

Had you studied advanced medicine in 17th-century Europe, your ‘textbook’ would have been the great medical encyclopaedia Canon Medicinae. Incredibly, this book was written 600 years earlier. Its author, remembered in the West as Avicenna, was in fact the great Iranian philosopher, physicist and poet Abu Ali Ibn Sina (980–1037), ‘BuAli’ Sina for short. If you’re a fan of aromatherapy you can thank BuAli for the development of steam distillation, with which essential oils are extracted. His ideas on momentum and inertia were centuries ahead of Newton’s. And (following al-Kindi and al-Farabi), his blending of Aristotle’s ideas with Persian philosophy helped inspire a golden age of Islamic scholarship. However, this philosophy rapidly led to a polarisation of views about the man whose ego was reputedly as great as his intellect.

Born in what is today Uzbekistan, BuAli studied medicine in Bukhara, where his sharp mind and photographic memory had him running rings around his teachers. Political intrigues in Bukhara meant BuAli fled westwards to Gonbad-e Kavus, only to arrive as Qabus, his illustrious prospective sponsor, dropped dead. Initially BuAli proved luckier in Hamadan, where he successfully treated the ailments of the ruling emir and was promoted to vizier. However, when his patron died, BuAli was thrown into prison for corresponding with Abu Jafar, a rival ruler based in Esfahan. Four months later the Esfahanis stormed Hamadan, releasing BuAli, who went on to work with Abu Jafar for the rest of his life, coincidentally dying while on a return trip to Hamadan some 14 years later.