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Maps, Explorers & Adventurers => Maps, Cartographers & Cartography => Topic started by: Bianca on September 28, 2007, 05:08:55 pm

Post by: Bianca on September 28, 2007, 05:08:55 pm

                                                       P O R T O L A N S

A portolan is an early modern European navigation chart, dating from the thirteenth century or later, in manuscript, usually with rhumb lines, shorelines and place names.

The portolan combined the exact notations of the text of the periplus or pilot book with the decorative illustrations of the conceptual T and O map but on the whole it offered a realistic depiction of the shore and was meant for practical use by a mariner of the period. The portolan did not take into account the curvature of the earth, so it was a misleading document for crossing an ocean. It was useful for navigation in smaller bodies of water such as the Mediterranean or the Red Sea.

The oldest portolan which has survived to our era dates from circa 1296. The cartographer Angelino Dulcert produced a portolan in 1339.


Map of Angelino Dulcert

Angelino Dulcert (fl. 1339) was a Mallorcan mapmaker whose portolan is the first known to have been produced in Palma, in 1339.

The portolan's keys and legends are written in Latin, and it contains features not usually found on Genoese or Venetian portolans.

It also attempts to represent Northern Europe and include information concerning Africa, thus moving away from the Mediterraneano-centric frame of reference that characterizes other portolans of the time.[1] It also gives the first recorded name of the island of LANZAROTE, one of the Canary Islands, as Insula de Lanzarotus Marocelus, a reference to the Genoese navigator Lancellotto Malocello.

Post by: Bianca on September 30, 2007, 07:53:30 am

                                               P O R T O L A N S

Mariners during the 15th century relied on charts called "portolans" to assist them on their voyages. 'Portolan' comes from the Italian word 'portolani', which were medieval pilot books. The portolans contained maps of coastlines, locations of harbors, river mouths, and man-made features visible from the sea. They were a compilation of centuries of seafarer observations.

As sailors' skills improved and the use of the compass was more widespread, portolans improved in accuracy. Also Columbus used these portolans on his journeys. Portuguese chartmakers added the meridian line, a point useful for latitude sailing as well as for navigating solely by compass.

A geographic feature could now be located through the use of its distance in degrees of latitude from a ship's point of departure. Note that the use of latitude and longitude was understood since the time of Ptolemy, the second century CE.

During the fifteenth century Portugal led the European world in sea exploration. The golden age of discovery for Portugal lasted almost a century until the Dutch eventually seized their trade routes from them.

Post by: Bianca on September 30, 2007, 07:54:57 am

Useful Information

Parallels: Circles parallel to the equator, ranging from 0° to 90° N or S. Only the equator is a great circle.

Meridians: half-Circles conversing at the poles, ranging from 0° to 180° E or W. Each pair of meridians forms a great circle.

Prime Meridian: 0° or the Greenwich meridian which divides the Western and Eastern hemispheres.

Great Circle: The intersection of a sphere and a plane through its center.

Small Circle: The intersection of a sphere that does not pass though its center.

Time Zones: By convention 24 zones, each 15° longitude wide. Hence, noon at greenwich gives midnight at 180° E.

GMT: Greenwich Mean Time or UTC or Zulu, and is the time in Greenwich. Antonym: Local time. Berlin's local time = GMT + 1.

Date Line: The meridian which extents from the prime meridian. Here, not only the hour changes, but also the date.

Latitude: Position property defined by the number of degrees North or South of the equator, varies from 0° to 90°.

Longitude: Position property defined by the number of degrees East or West of the prime meridian, varies from 0° to 180°.

Position: Latitudes first and Longitudes second. For example: Nijmegen (NED) = 51° 50',1 N , 05° 52',0 E.

Nautical Mile: One nm is one minute (') on the chart. 1' equals 1.852 meters.

Knots: Nautical miles per hour.

Post by: Bianca on September 30, 2007, 07:59:17 am

                                    Unsolved Mysteries—How were portolans used?

Portolan charts were surely used for planning voyages as well as during them. The owners, investors and others involved in a voyage would have used them for determining routes, deciding the best times for sailing and return, identifying places to stop for trade, to seek refuge from pirates or to head for if the ship needed repairs. The important coastal places were indicated in red. They were crucial if the ship ran into trouble from weather or enemies.


Images in the interior of a portolan chart are usually elaborate portrayals of cities, mountains, animals, etc. which, except for rivers, were not important for navigation.


They are decoration, of course, but also demonstrate that portolan charts were used not only for voyages, but to please a viewer with artistic images and to provide a world view. This latter purpose becomes increasingly common in the sixteenth century, when charts incorporate the geographical information resulting from European voyages to the Americas.

Most probably a portolan chart used during a voyage was far less elaborate. The assumption is that the navigator would align the keel of his ship along the rhumb line that led most directly to his destination, in order to make the best time on the voyage. The pilot maintained the course of the ship as close to the planned route as possible. Rhumb lines and the compass would help him to adjust the route as needed, and the scale gave him the distance he had to travel.


Strictly speaking, portolan charts have no "up" or "down" and north is not necessarily at the "top" of the map. They were made to be turned in whichever direction the traveler was headed, so that writings on the coasts of England and Ireland, for example, are placed so the viewer is looking south to read them.


All the same, the portolan charts with their use of the compass and the prominence given to the compass on them, helped to establish the practice of orienting European maps toward the north.


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Post by: Bianca on September 30, 2007, 08:12:36 am


Portolan Atlas,
Venice, ca. 1535-1538

                                                   Bibliotheca Schoenbergensis:

                     An Exhibition from the Collection of Lawrence J. Schoenberg Books of Nature

Portolan atlases were sea charts that used a network of "thumb" lines centered on a compass rose to represent distances between points--literally, "port to port." The earliest extant portolans date from around 1300, but it is likely that they incorporate much older traditions, possibly stretching back as far as classical antiquity. Portolans were originally utilitarian documents of great value to sailors. They facilitated the navigation and exploration of the Mediterranean and, by the fifteenth century, of the wider world as well. Between 1300 and 1600 thousands of these atlases were produced, chiefly in Spain and in Italy. However, by the sixteenth century portolans became collectors' items. Artful cartographers sought to take advantage of this new market by producing luxury atlases like the one on display for the wealthy. Battista Agnese, who was active between 1527 and 1564, was one of the most accomplished and successful maker of luxury portolans. More than seventy of his atlases survive, of which this is a particularly early example.

The distinguished provenance of the atlas reflects the value of the genre in the sixteenth century. It was presented to the eminent scholar Paolo Giovio in 1541 by Tommaso Compeggio, Bishop of Feltre and papal diplomat.

Parchment, 7 double-page maps, 398 x 285 mm.

Post by: Bianca on September 30, 2007, 08:42:58 am

                                         Mapping and Picturing: Maps as Records of History

Figure 1. Chios island (in Aegean Sea) map, Kitab-i Bahriye, Suleymaniye Library, Ayasofya, 2612.
This short article is taken from the full article (by Prof. Gunsel Renda) which is available here as 7 page PDF file

Researchers of cartography are often geographers or cartographers themselves who examine maps for their content in view of the science of map making, while the illustrations on the maps are often overlooked. A study of historical maps and sea charts indicates, however, that cartographers have often considered map making as an art as well as a science and aimed to record the different parts of the world not only with their topographical details but also with their history. Therefore, city views, costumes, ships, flora and fauna and even portraits found on certain maps have brought them close to works of art.

Certain illustrated maps have survived from the Roman and Medieval times but it is in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that a great number of maps and sea charts or portolans have been produced. It is the real explosion of geography in the sixteenth century that led to the production of maps and sea charts by the Italians, Catalan and Portuguese as well as the Ottomans. This was the natural outcome of the Portuguese expeditions that led to new trade routes and naval traffic especially on the Mediterranean.

To this must be added the conflicts that aroused in the sixteenth century between the ruling powers in the Mediterranean. For all purposes maps and sea charts were needed to provide current knowledge of geography and navigation. Maps and sea charts normally served to guide soldiers for military expeditions and especially mariners who sailed close to shore for refuge from corsairs and the ports they stopped for supply. Suitable harbours or towns were indicated with inscriptions and sometimes with sketchy vignettes. Maps and sea charts more or less have followed the same techniques over the centuries.

Portolans or sea charts drawn on vellum are either single sheets, the size of the animal skin used, or they are in the form of atlases made up of separate sheets. They have interconnecting rhumb lines; representing the 32 points of the compass, 32 winds main half and quarter which join in wind roses which are multicoloured and decorated with a variety of motifs. Coast lines are drawn in green or blue, the islands painted in different colours. They have decorative scale bars as well; the place names or legends are written at right angles to the shore in black or red. Some of these maps or sea charts were produced in Italian, Catalan or Ottoman workshops as special presentation copies prepared for rulers or wealthy customers.

Important cities which in the simple maps were no more than vignettes developed in these copies into plan views or ground level panoramas of certain cities and harbours with added legends concerning historical facts often indicating the political allegiance of a place. Venice and Genoa were the most frequently illustrated ports although other cities such as Marseilles, Jerusalem, Alexandria or Cairo were represented.

They also included figures of rulers or other humans worthy of attention, animals, birds, flags, etc. It is in these illustrated maps that the links between map and picture making bring aesthetic concerns and their artistic component needs to be explored.

Post by: Bianca on September 30, 2007, 08:48:44 am
Figure 2. Canakkale area,
Kitab-i Bahriye, Suleymaniye
Library, Ayasofya, 2612.

A study of such maps or sea charts from the Mediterranean reveals the interplay between diverse cultures in the area and especially the political and cultural relations between the Mediterranean countries, and the different approaches revealed by the works of Italian, Catalan or Ottoman cartographers.

The Catalan or Italian cartographers preparing maps and sea charts for their patrons seem to have developed a special interest towards the Moslem rule in the eastern Mediterranean. Ottoman expansion into Anatolia and especially the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 must have been an unpleasant reality for Italian and Catalan cartographers as they were reluctant to depict the city under Moslem rule and they preferred to indicate if all, the new masters of the Byzantine capital only by a flag and symbolize the Moslem rule in Anatolia by banners with crescents or sometimes a turbaned figure holding a dagger.

The sixteenth century saw the production of several maps and sea charts by the Ottomans. The Ottoman expansion policy in the Mediterranean resulted in the annexation of Syria and Egypt followed by the siege of Rhodes already signalling Ottoman supremacy in the Aegean by 1520's. This continuing interest in campaigns in the Mediterranean necessitated the presence of a powerful fleet and extensive geographic material.

It was Mehmed II in the 15th century who had acquired a rich collection of geographical sources for the Ottoman court. His personal interest in geography is revealed by a large number of books and maps still kept in the Topkapi Palace Museum. Francesco Berlinghieri, the Florentine geographer, dedicated a copy of Ptolemy's Geographike's Italian translation to Mehmed II. A military map of the Venetian republic also commissioned by Mehmed II is now in the Topkapi Museum.

Post by: Bianca on September 30, 2007, 08:54:15 am

Various military maps or siege plans were produced by the Ottomans. In two siege plans, one of Belgrade and the other of Lepanto, painted in the technique of miniature painting, Lepanto is shown enclosed in flatly rendered walls but the monuments themselves in elevation. It is in way a map and also a miniature painting. The plan of Belgrade has scattered vignettes reminiscent of portolan style but the way the buildings are shown, the-plants rendered and the colouring is typical of Ottoman miniatures of the time.

The best examples of Ottoman mapping are found among the works of Piri Reis, a manner and a cartographer at the court of Selim I and Suleyman the Magnificent. His well known world map of 1513 based on the Columbus map of 1498 and the various copies of his Kitab-i Bahriye, a book of portolans and sailing directions, are full of city views and legendary images worthy of attention. In the long inscription on the world map he says he consulted 20 maps and mappamondi and legends about the discovery of America.

Figure 3. Sicily Island, Kitab-i Bahriye, Suleymaniye Library, Ayasofya, 2612.

Later in the century several Ottoman atlases without text were produced, some of them with elaborate illustrations. In an atlas in the Walters Art Gallery dating from late 16th century, the major cities in Europe and the East Mediterranean are depicted with accurate details (Alexandria and Marseilles). Genoa is depicted with its two harbours, but the most interesting image in the atlas is the panorama of Istanbul.

The city is divided by the Golden Horn and the Bosphorous into three sections and each section when viewed from the sea is drawn like a ground level panorama. The Istanbul skyline with its major mosques and Galata section with its tower are marked with accuracy, not to forget the arsenal which was elaborated in the second half of the 16th century. The panorama looks like a ground level view at first sight but it also gives the feeling of a bird's eye view because the city is shown from a distance. Yet it totally lacks the single perspective used in bird's eye views of European towns by cartographers such as Roselli and Barbari at the beginning of the 16th century.

On the other hand this panoramic view of Istanbul is not an imaginary or symbolic representation of the town nor is it in any way reminiscent of portolan style town views seen previously. It is more in line with detailed panoramas of Istanbul often drawn by European travellers in the 16th century such as the Lorichs panorama or the Vienna one. They are ground level panoramas seen from the Galata section. The true bird's eye view plan of Istanbul was published by Braun and Hogenberg in the Civitates Orbis Terrarum early in the 17th century (1572-1618) where the view of Istanbul is in the perfect geometrical perspective.

Braun and Hogenberg included figures and portraits in their city views and there is an interesting note in their publication. They say they did this to prevent the Turks whose religion forbade images from using their maps for their own military end.

Post by: Bianca on September 30, 2007, 08:59:21 am

When Bleau brothers presented their atlas to Louis the 14th in 1663 they wrote "geography is the eye and light of history". "The cartographer describes each section of the world individually with its cities, villages, islands, rivers, lakes, mountains, etc. and tells its history making everything so clear so that the reader sees the actual town or place before his eyes".

Maps should be considered to present geography as the eye of history. They record the history of a town as well as the 'political history of a region, they reflect the conflicts between political powers and beliefs, they reflect the artistic milieu of the period and above all the cartographer who often was also the artist, or sometimes the sailor or the traveller himself, his political tendencies, his interest in far away lands, his cultural background, his knowledge of environment and nature and his own world of fantasies and memories. No doubt the map makers in history have been referred to as "world describers". Their work enables us to contemplate at home and right before our eyes things that are farthest away.

Yet the artistic component of the cartographers work is equally significant. This interesting merge of mapping and picturing, should be the concern of the historians of art as these illustrated maps may well be a source for historical documentation as well as the art of painting at the time, and the aesthetic criteria prevailing in various art circles in the Mediterranean.

by: FSTC Limited, Sat 03 February, 2007

Post by: Bianca on September 30, 2007, 09:08:27 am

Related Articles:

A review of Muslim Geography by: FSTC Limited

Muslim geography opened up a vast knowledge of the world. Islam urged people to open their minds and horizons, and know about the wonders of God's creation and thus Muslim geographers ventured across the known and unknown world.

Mapping the World by: Datuk Dr. Syed Othman Al-Habshi

Dr.Alhabshi discusses some of the great contributions to geography by early Muslims who were driven by an intense interest not only to gain knowledge but also to serve others rather than greed or fame - a genuine Islamic outlook.

Piri Reis maps America by: FSTC Limited

In 1513 Piri Reis presented his famous map of the New World to the Sultan, giving the Ottomans, well before many European rulers, an accurate description of the American discoveries as well as details about the circumnavigation of Africa.

Piri Reis and the Book of Sea Lore (Kitab-i Bahriye) by: FSTC Limited

Kitab i-Bahriye's description of the coasts of Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and France are well documented in his Book of Sea Lore (Kitab I-Bahriye).

Earliest maps of America by: Professor Sevim Tekeli

The earliest maps made of America by Columbus have all since been lost. However, a number of very early and accurate maps exist which were made by Piri Reis based on material including the maps by Columbus and used by the Turkish navy.

The Oldest Map of Japan Drawn by Mahmud of Kashgar by: Prof. Sevim Tekeli

Although the Japanese map was included for the first time in a world atlas in the 15th century, the very first map of Japan was drawn by Mahmud of Kashgar in early 11th century.

Better Directions at Sea: The Piri Reis Innovation by: FSTC Limited

The Ottoman Turk Pīrī Reis is truly a great figure in the history of cartography. Pīrī Reis has become well known for his two world maps and for his portolan, the Kitab-i Bahriye. By merging text and maps into one he tried to help sailors get where they want to go safely; he improved maritime directions.

Turkish Contributions to Islamic Geography by: Prof. N.Akmal Ayyubi

Turkish contributions to geography are vast in content and have a very significant place in the history of geography. Turkish geographers, especially cartographers made major contributions and formed a bridge between medieval Islamic and modern cartography. In this article, original Turkish contributions to geography are reviewed.



Mapping and Picturing: Maps as Records of History, by: Prof. Gunsel Renda

A study of historical maps and sea charts indicates that cartographers have often considered map making as an art as well as a science and aimed to record the different parts of the world not only with their topographical details but also with their history.

Post by: Bianca on November 11, 2007, 02:27:36 pm

Portolan of Ibn-ben-Zara