BERLIN - More than 200 items from the Aga Khan's collection of Islamic treasures are going on show in Berlin in an exhibition spanning a millennium and covering half the globe.
A chestnut leaf delicately inscribed with golden calligraphy greets visitors at the start of the show of works collected by the billionaire philanthropist and illustrating the breadth of Islamic culture.
Dating back to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, it is one of the newest pieces presented Tuesday at the Martin Gropius Bau gallery. Exhibits date back as far as a green-glazed pilgrim's flask from the 7th or 8th century.
Organizers hope "to present to our western public the pluralism of the Islamic cultures," Luis Monreal, the managing director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, told reporters.
"We in general view Islam as a single cultural identity and this is simply a wrong perception, because Islam over 13 centuries has been a religion practiced by a great diversity of people," he said.
At the western end of the Islamic world, the exhibition showcases artifacts such as an inlaid scribe's cabinet and an astrolabe from "al-Andalus," the area of Spain ruled by the Moors until 1492. It also includes pages from the "blue Quran," inscribed in gold on blue-dyed parchment, from North Africa.
At the other end, an 18th-century Quran inscribed in tiny lettering on green cloth from India occupies part of a wall, contrasting with a geometrically styled edition of the Quran from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
The exhibition also includes 19th-century Chinese pilgrim Ma Fuchu's illustrated report on his pilgrimage to Mecca; a well-preserved Mongol robe from the 13th or 14th century; and illustrations of the epic Persian poem "Shahnama" or "Book of Kings."
Organizers sought to highlight the importance of the written word and the Quran, while also following the routes of travelers, both those making the hajj — the pilgrimage to Mecca — and adventurers and explorers, curator Benoit Junod said.
The show, titled "Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum — Arts of the Islamic World," opens to the public on Wednesday and runs through June 6.
The Aga Khan is spiritual leader of 20 million Shia Ismaili Muslims. The exhibition includes 215 items out of a collection totaling roughly 1,000 pieces, whose permanent home in Toronto should be ready in mid-2013.
"We're trying to perhaps make people discover things, and with discovery comes understanding," Junod said. "And understanding is something which is much needed nowadays."