The Piri Reis map is back on display at the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. Like the Tabula Peutingeriana, it’s only taken out for display at intervals to protect it from the elements. Discovered when the palace was being converted into a museum in the 1920s, the map is the western third of a portolan chart drawn on gazelle skin parchment in 1513 by Ottoman admiral Ahmet Muhiddin Piri (“Reis”—admiral—was his title). It was an expansive compilation of ancient and contemporary sources much like the Waldseemüller map, and is fascinating in its own right; in recent years, though, it became one of the “proofs” of a nutty theory involving ancient civilizations and polar shifting. [Tony Campbell]
First You Make the Maps, a Story Map produced for Lapham’s Quarterly by Elizabeth Della Zazzera, surveys maps and mapmaking for sea navigation from the 15th through the 18th centuries.
From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, European powers sent voyagers to lands farther and farther away from the continent in an expansionist period we now call the Age of Exploration. These journeys were propelled by religious fervor and fierce colonial sentiment—and an overall desire for new trade routes. They would not have been possible without the rise of modern cartography. While geographically accurate maps had existed before, the Age of Exploration saw the emergence of a sustained tradition of topographic surveying. Maps were being made specifically to guide travelers. Technology progressed quickly through the centuries, helping explorers and traders find their way to new imperial outposts—at least sometimes. On other occasions, hiccups in cartographic reasoning led their users even farther astray.
Over at GeoLounge, Caitlin has a brief and basic overview of medieval maps and travel guides, including T-O maps, travel guides for pilgrims, mappae mundi, and portolan charts. As she points out, only the last of these even attempted to be geographically accurate; the others had other purposes.
Though I haven’t seen it, the most recent issue of Maps and History reports on the discovery of a fragment of an early portolan chart in the departmental archives of the Vaucluse. The so-called Avignon Chart (Carte d’Avignon)1 dates to around 1300, making it one of the earlier portolan charts known to exist. If you can read French, the Brussels Map Circle’s website has a lengthy article about the chart by Jacques Mille and Paul Fermon that discusses, among other things, the chart’s provenance and how its approximate age was determined. (I don’t know whether this is the same article that appears in Maps and History.) [Tony Campbell]
A Turkish filmmaker is working on a documentary about the life of Ottoman admiral and mapmaker Piri Reis, whose 1513 portolan chart, a fragment of which was rediscovered in 1929, claimed to draw upon ancient and contemporary sources, including Columbus. According to the Doğan News Agency story, the 75-minute film “will feature dramatic reconstructions starring actor Mehmet Günsur as Piri Reis, Riccardo Scamarcio as Christopher Columbus and actress Deniz Özdoğan. Can Atill will reportedly compose the music for the film.” If you can read Turkish, the website of the filmmaker, Gülsah Çeliker, is here; the movie’s website is here. The documentary is supposed to be finished by the end of the year. [WMS]
A 16th-century portolan chart is being auctioned later this month at TEFAF New York. “The map, which was created by a Genoese cartographer named Vesconte Maggiolo in 1531, is one of the first depictions of America’s eastern seaboard. It’s also the first (extant) map, ever, to show New York harbor,” Bloomberg’s James Tarmy writes. The asking price is $10 million—which would tie it with the Library of Congress’s copy of the Waldseemüller map as the most expensive map ever. The seller, Daniel Crouch Rare Books, has produced a detailed, lavishly illustrated 56-page booklet befitting a map with an eight-figure asking price. [WMS]
The program for the First International Workshop on the Origin and Evolution of Portolan Charts, which takes place 5-6 June 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal, is now live. The conference focuses on the history of portolan charts and the analytical techniques used to study them. [via]
Here are some map books that I recently found out about:
- Mr. Selden’s Map of China: Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer by Timothy Brook (Bloomsbury Press/House of Anansi Press/Profile Books, 9/13). A book-length study of the enigmatic Selden Map of China, donated to the Bodleian Library in 1659 and only rediscovered in 2009. (Amazon)
- The Golden Age of Maritime Maps: When Europe Discovered the World by Catherine Hoffman, Hélène Richard and Emmanuelle Vagnon (Firefly Books, 9/13). One of those big, illustrated books of old maps; this one looks at portolan charts. It’s an English translation of L’Âge d’or des cartes marines. (Amazon)
- Maps of Paradise by Alessandro Scafi (University of Chicago Press, 11/13). Explores “the diverse ways in which scholars and mapmakers from the eighth to the twenty-first century rose to the challenge of identifying the location of paradise on a map, despite the certain knowledge that it was beyond human reach.” (Amazon)
- The International Atlas of Mars Exploration: The First Five Decades, 1953 to 2003 by Philip J. Stooke (Cambridge University Press, 9/12). The first of two volumes (the second will be subtitled Spirit to Curiosity) that maps the extent of exploration by orbiters and landers. (Amazon, author’s page)