Monday, June 25, 2018

Make the World Smaller & Venice Bigger

I've added the Fra Mauro map of the world to my collection of Historical World Maps. To load the Fra Mauro map you need to click on the 1450 button. You can then zoom and pan the map to explore it in detail.

Fra Mauro's world map was created around 1450 by the Italian cartographer Fra Mauro. His map is a circular planisphere with south orientated to the top of the map. Fra Mauro's map is one of the first European world maps to break from the tradition of Bible based cartography. In other words Fra Mauro's map favors geographical accuracy rather than religious beliefs and mythological stories.

Fra Mauro lived in the Republic of Venice. Venice had for centuries been an important center of trade between Europe and the Middle East and Africa. Before becoming a monk Fra Mauro had himself traveled as a merchant and a soldier. As a cartographer he was therefore able to draw from his own experience and from the many Arab traders and world travelers passing through Venice. Instead of relying on traditional religious maps Fra Mauro could actually get first hand accounts from sailors, merchants and other travelers.

One area where Fra Mauro's break from the religious tradition of map making is apparent is in having south at the top. Placing south at the top was common in Arab maps of the time. In contrast, most European world maps had east at the top, because east was the direction of the biblical Garden of Eden. Many European maps of the time also placed Jerusalem in the exact center of the map (and world). Fra Mauro's map also breaks with this tradition.

One result of Fra Mauro's more scientific approach to map making is that his map is the first European map to show Japan as an island and to show that it was possible to sail all the way around Africa.

You can learn a little more about the Fra Mauro map on the short video on the British Library's Magnificent Map website.

The Fra Mauro map shown in my Historical World Maps comes from the David Rumsey Map Collection. It is an 1854 copy of the original.

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