Before the portolan charts: lost maps of the sea in the Fatimid Book of Curiosities

23 May 2019 4.30pm 5.45pm


Lecture Theatre, Weston Library (Map)


Yossef Rapaport, Queen Mary, University of London


Nick Millea |


This talk will examine the cartographical representation of Mediterranean maritime spaces in the recently discovered Fatimid Book of Curiosities, written circa 1020- 1050 and preserved in a late twelfth-century copy.

In the Book of Curiosities, the Mediterranean is shown as a perfect oval diagram, dense with hundreds and harbors and islands, but unrecognizably abstract. Other perfectly abstract maps present the island of Cyprus as a sharp-pointed rectangle, and the Aegean Sea as a series of elongated finger-like arches. This absolute abstraction is in contrast to the late medieval portolan charts, and yet is accompanied by unprecedented wealth of material on quality and size of anchorages and harbors, sailing distances, water sources and wind directions. Taken together, these texts and diagrams are of major interest for the history of Mediterranean navigation and maritime charts before the portolan charts of the later Middle Ages.

This talk will argue that the intentional abstraction of the maritime maps is directly tied to their origin in navigation records, and that the straight lines reflect coast-hugging mariners’ view of the Mediterranean shores.  


Free admission.

This event is listed under: Lectures and talks; Free events
Back to top