Medieval Islamic World Maps

The most recent and comprehensive treatment of medieval Islamic maps is the 2016 book by Karen Pinto entitled Medieval Islamic Maps, An Exploration. What follows here is a selection of monographs mostly from a set of Islamic ‘carto-ideographs’. The set comprises the cartographically illustrated Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al Mamālik (KMM), what is also called the Ottoman Cluster [al-Istakhri’s Book of Roads and Kingdoms]

The classical KMMS map of the world is made up of a double-edged circle in a square or rectangular frame. Placed within this circle is the image of a pre-Columbian world, punctuated by seas and rivers. At the top of the map a large crescent shape sweeps in to shelter a double-headed, bulging form in the lower left-hand corner with a tiny triangle marooned in the lower right-hand sector of the image. These are white or paper-coloured. Two outspread blue arms emerge from a blue encircling band and additional blue shapes punctuate the white mass, including two small twin keyhole shapes towards the bottom of the map.

Within this aesthetically packaged ideograph are all the features standard to the classical medieval Islamic vision of the world. The Encircling Ocean (Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ) that rings the world along with four other seas, seven rivers and the three major land masses of Africa, Asia and Europe (listed here in order of their size on the map). The key to comprehending the medieval Muslim conception of the world is to assimilate the basic shapes of the land masses and the seas, and, crucially, the map’s southerly inversion.

The crescent-shaped land mass is the continent of Africa. Once we make this association we recognize that the double-headed, bulging form in the lower left-hand corner corresponds to the continent of Asia. The bulge connecting Africa to Asia is the Arabian Peninsula, and the tiny triangle marooned in the lower right-hand sector of the image is none other than Europe. Behind lie the seas outlining the land masses and, in doing so, make them possible.

211   al-lstakhri’s world map, Arabic, 934 A.D.

212   Massaudy world map, pre-956 A.D.

213   Ibn Hawqal’s world map, Arabic, 980 A.D.

214    al-Kashgari’s world map, Arabic, 1076 A.D.

214.1   Ibn al-Wardi world map, 1001 A.D.

214.2   Balkhi world map with climate boundaries, 816 A.D.

214.3   al-Biruni world map of the distribution of land and sea, 1029 A.D.

214.4   al-Harrani, world map from the Jami ’al-funun, 14th century

221  Ibn Said’s world map, Arabic, 13th century

222   al-Qazwini world maps, 13th century

Email:© Jim Siebold 2015