TITLE: World Map of al-Istakhri

DATE: 1193

AUTHOR:  Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Farisi al Istakhri

DESCRIPTION:  Al-Istakhri was virtually unknown apart from this one work. He does not appear in any of the standard Arab biographies, and all we know about him personally was his meeting with the more renown Ibn Hawqal (#213), which is related in the latter’s own book. Even his work Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik can be dated only from internal evidence, to the middle of the 10th century A.D.  It soon became popular, however, for there are many early editions, abridgments, and translations into Persian, often differing considerably from each other.

  In the Balkhi-Istakhri-Ibn Hawqal set of writings, there are four distinct recessions of what is basically one set of maps. This monograph follows J.H. Kramers’ example who refers to the four types as: Istakhri I, Istakhri II, Ibn Hawqal I, and Ibn Hawqal III. The manuscripts of Ibn Hawqal III, though all undated, are much later than the other texts, probably from the late 13th or early 14th century A.D.  The regional maps are nevertheless copies of the earlier versions. The world map of Ibn Hawqal III, however, is so different from the other world maps that it warrants special consideration.  Kramers finds that the texts presumed to be by al-Istakhri can be divided into two groups, and he regards one as earlier in origin. In this earlier group (Istakhri I), the maps are more geometric than the later ones (Istakhri II), while the text that goes with the later maps appears more complete and refined. On the other hand, it is the earlier texts that mention the name al-Istakhri, so that the cartographic historian Konrad Miller attributes the anonymous (Istakhri II) texts to al-Balkhi (#214.2), presuming wrongly that they are earlier than the others.

The main difference between the work of Ibn Hawqal (#213) and that of al- Istakhri is in the former’s discussion of the western (formerly Byzantine) part of Islam.  He treats Spain, North Africa and Sicily as three separate sections.  Syria and Egypt are dealt with in more detail, and it is interesting that when later authors like Yaqut quote Ibn Hawqal they are almost always referring to these western regions.

Al-Istakhri’s work was a commentary on the maps, and he states that “our plan is to describe, and to delineate on maps, the various seas, ... affixing the name of each, so that it may be known in the maps,” thus showing the importance he placed on the maps. The cartography, therefore, was the essential element in the work.  

The maps accompanying the geographical texts from what is termed the “Balkhi School” of geography seem at first sight to be an unnecessary supplement to the texts, the text being so complete in itself.  This is often so with illustrative material in classical Arab texts, certainly with maps in some later geographical works.  This set in most cases comprises twenty-one maps, although some manuscripts lack a map.  The consistency with which the same set of maps appears in so many manuscripts and with several different authors led scholars such as Konrad Miller to call the set the “Islam Atlas,” and it has subsequently been called this by several other scholars. The set consists of a world map, maps of the three seas: the Mediterranean, the Persian Sea [Indian Ocean] and the Caspian Sea, and maps of seventeen “provinces” of the Islamic empire. The word “provinces” is placed in quotation marks because in some cases provinces are linked together in one map (Azerbaijan, Armenia, etc., plus Spain and the Maghreb) and because the Persian Desert is hardly a province.  The word the texts use for “province” is iqlim, from the Greek word that reaches Arabic through the translation of Ptolemy. The word was used first to translate the Persian kishvar, which was a specific geographical region, and hence comes the present usage.  A complete list of these maps in the order usually found in a manuscript is as follows: 

(1) world map; 

(2) Arabia; 

(3) Indian Ocean; 

(4) al-Maghrib [North Africa]; 

(5) Egypt; 

(6) Syria; 

(7) Mediterranean Sea; 

(8) al-Jazirah [Upper Mesopotamia]; 

(9) Iraq (Lower Mesopotamia); 

(10) Khuzistan; 

(11) Fars; 

(12) Kirman; 

(13) Sind

(14) Armenia, Arran (Alvan), and Azerbaijan; 

(15) Jibal (central Persian mountains); 

(16) Daylam and its neighbors (Rayy, Tabaristan); 

(17) Caspian Sea; 

(18) Persian Desert; 

(19) Sijistan; 

(20) Khurasan; and

(21) Transoxiana.  

The thirteen maps that represent the Persian-speaking provinces of the Islamic empire are fairly consistent in form throughout all the manuscripts. Their form was stereotyped by the time of the first al-Istakhri recession, and Ibn Hawqal seems to have found no need to change these maps. Even Azerbaijan and al-Jazirah, of which Ibn Hawqal produced good versions approved by al-Istakhri, do not seem to have changed much through Islamic cartography recessions. It is therefore appropriate to describe these maps of the Iranian area and then use them as a standard for the rest of the set.

The maps of each of these regions consist of an area that is roughly rectangular and usually, although not always, surrounded by a line representing its boundary with the surrounding areas. There is no projection to form the base of the map.  The maps cannot be joined together as a multi-sheet map like the sectional maps of al-Idrisi (#219).  Even if they are reduced to the same scale, this cannot be done as it can for the sectional maps of the European edition of Ptolemy. The maps are thus individual entities and are seen as such by the draftsman.

This set of maps also does not cover the whole world as do the sectional maps of al-Idrisi that follow in the 12th century and the texts of the earlier geographers like Ibn al-Faqih or Ibn Khurradadhbih.  These latter include considerable detail on China and India and give some account of Africa and Europe.  The Balkhi maps specifically cover only the Islamic empire as it appeared in the 10th century.  Even Spain has no separate map and is omitted in the text, though it was a Muslim province at the time. It was, of course, never part of the Abbasid Empire.  Inside the Dar al-Islam each province is then given its own map and a description that forms an individual chapter dealing systematically with towns, rivers, mountains and inhabitants, followed by itineraries throughout the province.  S. Maqbul Ahmad has a theory that this Islamicization of the maps and geography was a deliberate policy developing independent of the work of the earlier al-Ma’mun type of geographer, which, based mainly on Ptolemy, covered the whole of the known world.

Besides this policy of portraying only the areas of the Abbasid caliphate at its greatest extent, it is further obvious that there is a bias toward things Iranian: so much so that Kramers has suggested there may have been old Iranian maps that are the basis of these Balkhi maps.  There is no evidence for the existence of the former, but the maps may ultimately be based on early lists of postal routes surviving from Sassanid times.  These lists may perhaps also be seen as the origin of the lists of Islamic postal routes found in the works of the al-Masalik waal-mamalik type.  The Iranian bias also appears in the contents of the set of maps. The Iranian area is divided systematically into areas for mapping, whereas the areas the Arabs conquered from the Byzantines were treated in a much less systematic way.  This may, however, reflect the administrative situation in the two empires that preceded the Islamic empire at the time when the Arab conquest took place. Al-Balkhi and al-Istakhri were both patronized by the Samanid rulers of Persia, and the emphasis is very much on the Iranian area.

al-Istakhri's world map, Arabic, 977/1570 A.D., oriented with South at the top

The world maps (al-Istakhri I/II and Hawqal III) and the map of the Indian Ocean, which is enlarged from it and always referred to as the Persian Sea, are a different proposition. These two maps are built up by what might be called “academic conjecture”—an armchair attempt to see all the provinces set down relative to each other.  The whole has to fit into a stereotyped idea of what the whole world should look like.  According to Arab geographical theory based entirely on Ptolemy, this would be a sphere.  Since the far side of a world sphere (an upside-down world) was practically inconceivable, only a hemisphere was thought to be inhabitable. This could easily be “projected” onto a flat area and represented by a circle. That Ptolemy represented the inhabitable world as occupying 180 degrees of the earth supported this idea. Thus al- Istakhri represented the world as a circle surrounded by the Encompassing Sea, with the two main seas reaching in from the east and the west toward the center, where they would join except for a small, narrow land barrier—the barzakh of the Qur’an .

In his text, al-Istakhri gives a simple description of the world to explain his map. “The earth is divided into two by the two seas, so that we have a north or cold half and a south or hot half. People in these two halves get blacker as you go south and whiter as you go north etc.” 

The main kingdoms are listed together with the kingdoms that adjoin them. This is the only place where non-Islamic areas are given any mention. Measurements are attempted; thus the width from the Encircling Ocean in northwestern Africa to the ocean in China was 400 days’ journey.  However, the distance north to south was not measurable.  There were 210 days’ journey through inhabitable lands, but the extreme north was uninhabited because of intense cold and the extreme south because of intense heat.  The seas were described briefly, and the fact that the Khazar [Caspian] Sea and the Khwarazm [Aral] Sea were landlocked is mentioned, as well as the sea connection between the Encircling Ocean and Istanbul—that is, the Baltic joins up to the Bosporus. The map of the Persian Sea is an enlarged version of a portion of the world map, although there are enough differences in the shape of the ocean in the two maps to necessitate some explanation. Three large islands, Kharak, Awal [Bahrain] and Laft [Qishm Island], are set symmetrically in what is the Arabian Sea, with the Tigris to the left and the Indus to the right. India and China coalesce into one narrow peninsula, matching Arabia on the other side. The attempt is probably to match the Mediterranean on the other side of the world. Hence India also has a large mountain (Adam’s Peak) to match the Jabal al-Qilal near the Strait of Gibraltar. This is the Indian Ocean map in the first recession (Istakhri I).

The second recession (Istakhri II) is not so symmetrical, and the mountain and three islands become much smaller (as they also do in the Mediterranean). In the world map, the islands disappear altogether in the second recession but are there, very large, in the first. There is no “mountain” in either recession of the world map. The surprising difference is that the western tip of the Indian Ocean, which represents the Red Sea (Sea of Qulzum), points to the west in the ocean map, but in the world map it turns back on itself to almost touch the southeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea.

Al-Istakhri and Ibn Hawqal show no interest in projections or mathematical astronomy. Neither do they mention longitude and latitude in any form, or any sort of map construction.  They both give distances between places on their routes (marhalah = a day’s journey), and they add these up roughly to give the dimensions of the inhabited world.  These distances are not recognizable on the map, however. It therefore does not seem that the authors envisaged any kind of formal scale at all in constructing these maps.

      Each map consists of a set of geometric configurations.  Though some are more geometric than others, most lines are straight or arced, rivers are wide parallel lines, and lakes are often perfect circles. Towns are sometimes squares, circles, or four-pointed stars or, if they are stopping places on a straight route, resemble small tents or perhaps doors to caravansaries.  Thus much of the drafting is ruled with either a straight or a curved edge. The only exceptions are mountains, which are drawn as a collection of peaks or perhaps piles of rocks, though even here the base, which probably represents the position of the range on the map, is a straight line or a regular curve. 

al-Istakhri world map, Arabic, 934 A.D. by Arab geographer al-Wardi

oriented with South at the top

         The basic purpose of the maps (especially those of the Persian-speaking areas) seems to be to incorporate the caravan routes across the province, with all the stages marked. This is most noticeable on the map of the Khurasan Desert, where the boundary of the desert is given with the bordering villages and oases marked around it. Straight lines then join those places on opposite sides where traffic flows, and the name of the route is written on the line so drawn.

All the manuscripts in what is called the Ottoman Cluster [al-Istakhri’s Kitab al-Masalik wa-al-Mamalik - Book of Roads and Kingdoms, henceforth KMMS] are written on thin, highly polished paper in tight, late, naskhi script with few diacritical marks. They are strikingly similar in other respects too. Five of the six average the same number of lines per page, namely 25. Rubricated words are identical. The manuscripts are the same size, approximately 32 x 22 cm. The world maps have a consistent diameter of approximately 19 to 20 cm, while the map of the Persian Gulf is approximately 24 x 17 cm. Gouache pigments tend to be the same: dull blue washes for the seas, reddish -browns for the mountains, and pale pinks or oxidized copper greens for the deserts, with red ink as the preferred color for the outlines of the land masses and the territorial demarcations. All the maps in the Ottoman Cluster take up a single folio. TSMK A. 3349 and BL Oriental [Or.] 5305, the last manuscript in the series, represent departures from the strict color code. The maps in these two manuscripts are unpainted; instead they are outlined in either red or gold.

As Karen Pinto points out it is through the distinctive delineations in the maps that one can most easily identify the KMMS Ottoman Cluster as part of a single group. Overall, on the regional maps, the Arabian peninsula has an unusual over-elongated shape. The Red Sea on the Persian Gulf maps has a distinctive sharp-toothed shape, while its shape on the Mediterranean maps also stands out for its pronounced oblong appearance.

al-lstakhri II world map, Arabic, 934 A.D.

oriented with South at the top

Map of the world from the earliest of the KMMS Ottoman Cluster, A.S. 2971a, fol. 3a.

South is at the top. Diameter 19.5 cm. For place-names, see below.

(Reproduced with permission from Sülemaniye Kütüphanesi, Istanbul)

The world map is characterized by distinctive shapes, especially for the seas and rivers. In the northwestern quadrant (lower right) of each world map, is an elongated, tear-shaped Mediterranean Sea, with two outstretched arms representing the Nile (at right angles to the Mediterranean) and the Bosphorus (at 45 degrees). The two arms together give the Mediterranean a bulging cruciform appearance. At the other, left or eastern, end of the map, the combined Persian Gulf-Indian Ocean sweeps in as if threatening to hook onto the Mediterranean, a distinctive characteristic of this group of maps.

As on world maps in other KMMS manuscripts, the interior of the three continents on the Ottoman Cluster world map, which are always outlined in red ink, are left uncolored. Consequently it is the blueness of the surrounding water that directs attention to the land, whose stark whiteness on the folios also serves to heighten the visual conflict between the threatening Persian Gulf and the placid Mediterranean. Africa, which always sweeps across the top of KMMS world maps, has a pronounced pointed dagger or crescent-like shape. Below, as if sheltered by Africa, is a double-humped Asia. In the lower right corner of the image, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Encircling Ocean, is a triangular European land mass. The stark, unadorned stylistic simplicity of the maps and the dramatic shapes of the lands and seas are among the most visually striking features of the world maps in this group.

A final but crucial aspect identified by Karen Pinto that individualizes all the maps in the Ottoman Cluster manuscripts is their unsophisticated execution and lackluster painting technique. The outlining is uneven, with smudges and overlapping lines. The paintwork, too, is patchy and unevenly applied, while the colors tend to be watered-down and pale. The color palate is limited: on the world maps it is restricted to the blue of the sea, the white of the paper, and the red of the outlines and rubrication. On the regional maps the blue and white monotony is broken only by an occasional red-brown mountain or a pale pink or oxidized copper-green desert.

The earliest manuscript of the Ottoman Cluster, A.S. 2971a, shown above, is not a tracing from TSMK A. 2830, but a free-hand copy, which was subsequently faithfully traced in the other manuscripts of the Ottoman Cluster. Everything is slightly different. Hence, the distinctive angle of the Mediterranean in the Ottoman Cluster maps as against those of TSMK A. 2830, the “mother map” (see illustration below). The Indus River (marked Mehran on the world map) is sometimes squiggly as in the mother map - and sometimes straight. This can be explained on the basis of later Ottoman KMMS Cluster manuscripts being traced from an earlier exemplar in the cluster rather than directly copied from the mother manuscript; lines and shapes tend to be straightened out or further exaggerated in the process of transmission. The two inland seas, the Caspian and the Aral, retain their keyhole appearance with minor variations. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers are both smaller, although they retain their TSMK A. 2830 structure. The Euphrates noticeably does not meet up with either major sea but hangs almost as a frontier between them, reduced to a pronounced crescent shape. In both the mother world map and the world maps of the Cluster, the Euphrates acts as the boundary separating the Arabian peninsula from the rest of the world.

Taken as a whole, however, the world maps in TSMK A. 2830 and in the Ottoman Cluster manuscripts are almost identical. Territorial boundaries on the Cluster maps are marked with the same shapes as those employed by TSMK A. 2830, with the occasional shrinking and expanding in places. The space on the Ottoman Cluster world map Maghrib, Egypt and the Saharo-Sahelian sector lying to their south and to the Iranian territories in the east are visibly reduced, whereas the area accorded to Abyssinia has been increased. The bulbous head of the Arabian peninsula has become smaller, significantly reducing assigned to the Arab tribes as well assigned to Iraq. The areas along the edges of the map have expanded so that the waste around the northern and southern extremities (appropriately termed Barari meaning open-country/steepe/ desert) have ballooned.

Part of the cause of this ballooning is to be found in the simple fact that the maps of the Ottoman Cluster are on a larger size of paper, 19 cm compared with 13.2 cm in TSMK A. 2830, which has, in turn, increased the size of the map. The enlargement, however, is uneven. For instance, the territory marked Bilad al-Rum [Byzantium] has been allocated disproportionately more space in the world maps of the Ottoman Cluster than it had in the mother map. Stretching across all of Anatolia and Syria, and incorporating almost the whole of the Levant, it can be read as synonymous with a desire to expand the, of the Ottoman Empire.

The Slavic tribal belt on the western flank of the Black Sea, composed of (in order of occurrence) Sarir, the Khazar, the Burtas and the Rus, has also expanded and now presses into territory assigned to Bilad al-Rum. The area accorded to the Bulgars, designated Bulghar al-Dakhil, namely the Inner Bulghar, has been reduced in keeping with the fact that by this point Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II had incorporated most of Bulgaria into the Ottoman Empire. The swathe of land assigned to the Slavs (al-Saqaliba) along the northern end of the Bosphorus crossing over from Asia to Europe has been significantly elongated in A.S. 2971a. This too is a telling change, because by 1474 Mehmet had overrun most of the lower Danube region and had designs on all of it, up to and beyond Buda. 

Of particular interest is the way in which the space accorded to the al-Ard al-Kabira min al-Rum [the Land of Greater Byzantium] on the European flank has grown to take over almost the entire European triangle. The semi-circular areas assigned to the Ifranja [the Franks] and Andalus [Muslim Spain] has shrunk considerably. This change, more than any of the others, bears the mark of Mehmet’s territorial ambitions in Europe. Being heir to the Byzantines meant controlling most of Europe and Asia Minor. This is precisely what the boundaries of Rum can be read as representing on the world maps of the Ottoman Cluster.

Noticeable too are the sizes of the landmasses in the Ottoman Cluster versions of the world map. Africa is bigger, longer, more pointed and unmistakably sword-like in shape. Asia too is bigger, with significant expansion along its extremities. As a result India, Tibet, China, and especially the northern wastelands, Barari aI-Shaman, have been given more space. Europe is visibly larger. However, the hint of European contact with the westernmost tip of North Africa present in the TSMK A. 2830 world map has been removed in the Ottoman rendition.

The world map of the Ottoman Cluster was adroitly re-proportioned to impress upon the viewer the greatness and expanse of the Bilad aI-Rum and al-Ard al-Kabira min al-Rum - and the Ottoman Empire as successor to Byzantium - in comparison with all other territories of the world. The message is reinforced by the space accorded to the lands designated al-Saqaliba and Bulghar al-Dakhil, creating the impression of Ottoman control almost to the territorially voluminous northern steppes (Barari al-Shamal) and the lands of the Turks’ eponymous ancestors who, in the 11th and 12th centuries, as we know from the history of Turkic migrations from Inner Asia, made their way westward to Anatolia. What matters, according to the world map of the Ottoman Cluster, is that the Ottoman Empire dominates the image of the world as the new Byzantium with its nominative implication of a neo-Roman Empire.

The world map illustrated above is also based upon al-Istakhri. The world, centering on the Persian Gulf, an Ottoman province, c. 1820 and measures 26 x 29 cm. Drawn on paper with water color, ink, gouache and gold highlighting. The world map is in manuscript with inscriptions in Arabic showing a map of the world centered on the Jezirah and is based on al-Istakhri’s world map (977/1570 A.D). Oriented with South at the top, just as in the T-O maps of contemporary Latin Europe, but instead of the Earthly Paradise the Arab scholars knew enough to place in the furthest East both China and Tibet.
        The map shows Egypt and the river Nile in the right and further on “Country of the Black People”. Note how the tip of Africa points eastwards, a mistake that the Chinese geographers were the first to correct. In the lower right corner Europe, i.e. “Country of the Romans and Franks”.
The map shows the Indus in the lower left, with the Indian Peninsula, Tibet and Chinese Empire and The Red Sea colored in red. The outer circles represent the seas. The manuscript is a cosmology, not meant to be accurate geographically, but only to present the reader with a systematic overview of the existing knowledge about the world at the time.

In his text, al-Istakhri gives a simple description of the world to explain his map. “The earth is divided into two by the two seas, so that we have a north or cold half and a south or hot half. People in these two halves get blacker as you go south and whiter as you go north etc.”
        The main kingdoms are listed together with the kingdoms that adjoin them. This is the only place where non-Islamic areas are given any mention. Measurements are attempted; thus the width from the
Encircling Ocean in northwestern Africa to the ocean in China was 400 days’ journey. However, the distance north to south was not measurable. There were 210 days’ journey through inhabitable lands, but the extreme north was uninhabited because of intense cold and the extreme south because of intense heat. The seas were described briefly, and the fact that the Khazar [Caspian] Sea and the Khwarazm [Aral] Sea were landlocked is mentioned, as well as the sea connection between the Encircling Ocean and Istanbul—that is, the Baltic joins up to the Bosporus.

al-Istakhri’s manuscript copy of Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik MS copy dated 1325, Iran Bastan Museum, Tehran. Ref. MS.3515, ff. 3a-2b.

This world map is from al-Istakhri’s manuscript copy of Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik [Book of Routes and Realms], which is kept in Iran Bastan Museum in Tehran. This is a Persian translation of the book, dating from 1325.

The map follows all the traditions of the basic Islamic world maps by giving prominence to the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian/Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. The Gulf as well as the Mediterranean have each been shown with three islands. The Black Sea seems to be the waterway connecting the Mediterranean with the surrounding ocean, but the Caspian and the Aral Seas are shown as circular inland lakes, with wide rivers flowing in.

In the territory of Africa countries specified include Misr [Egypt], Maghrib, Land of the Blacks, Sehhe, Habashe [Ethiopia] and Zangbar [Zanzibar]. The Nile is the vertical blue strip descending from Habashe to the Mediterranean, where it arrives between Misr and Maghrib. In Asia, which occupies the bulk of the map, there are many countries and provinces shown from Sham [Syria] in the west to Chin [China] in the east and Khuzestan in the south, to the land of Gog and Magog in the north. Most of the legends, however, are those of the various provinces of Persia. In Western Europe the map shows few countries, namely Vilayet Rum [Byzantium], Saqaliba [Land of the Slavs], Vilayet Farang [France], Andalus and further east and near the center, Rus. The Mediterranean is shown with three large islands, westernmost of which is Cyprus, the others being Eqrites [Crete] and Saqalia [Sicily].

The name of Armenia should be on the map, since it appears in the text as well as in the regional map entitled Surat Arminiya, Arran va Adharbeijan of the same manuscript. However, part of the map, which should have borne this name, is in the fold of the paper and has been damaged and the writing partially obliterated. The name of Arran has also been rendered indiscernible by this damage. These should have been inscribed in the area between the Caspian, shown as comma-shaped, and the Back sea, which is the slanted blue band connecting the Mediterranean, located below center-right, to the ocean below. Only the names of Khazar and Adharbeijan, which are above the damaged area (south), are partially legible.

LOCATION:   Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna, Cod. 3521, fol. 2r.

                      Bibliothek der Rijksuniversiteit, MS. Or. 3101, pp. 4-5, Leiden.

1325 MS copy Iran Bastan Museum, Tehran. Ref. MS.3515, ff. 3a-2b.


*Harley, J. B., The History of Cartography, Volume Two, pp. 112-115, 121-22, 127, Figures

5.3, 5.15, Plate 7.

*Galichian, R., Countries South of the Caucasus in Medieval Maps: Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, pp. 90-101.

*Harwood, J., To the ends of the Earth, 100 Maps that changed the world, p. 44.

Kramers, J. H., “La question Balkhi-Istakhri-Ibn Hawkal et l’Atlas de l’Islam”, Acta

Orientalia 10 (1932): 9-30.

*Park, H., Mapping the Chinese and Islamic Worlds, pp. 58-74.

*Pinto, K., “The Maps are the Message: Mehmet II’s Patronage of an ‘Ottoman Cluster’”, pp.155-179, Imago Mundi, Volume 63:2, p. 201

*Tibbetts, G. R., “The Balkhi School of Geographers”, History of Cartography, Vol. II, Book I, Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies, pp. 108-36.


Map of the world from the earliest of the KMMS ‘Ottoman cluster’, A.S. 2971a, fol. 3a.

South is at the top. Diameter 19.5 cm. For place-names, see below.

(Reproduced with permission from Sülemaniye Kütüphanesi, Istanbul)

Map of the world from the Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik, BL., Or 5305, fol. 3a. Gouache on paper, 19.2 cm diameter, South at the top. Painted with gold outlines on egg-white polished European paper. ca 1520. British Library

Map of the world from the Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik, TSMK A. 2830, fol. 4a. Gouache on paper, 13.2 cm diameter, South at the top. Lavish lapis lazuli and gold pigments.

Topkapi Sarayi Müzesi Kütüphanesi

Map of the world from the Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik, A.S. 2613, fol. 3a. Gouache on paper, 19.6 cm diameter, South at the top. Lavish lapis lazuli and gold pigments.

Sülemaniye Kütüphanesi, Istanbul

From al-lstakari’s Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik, dated 1836, British Library, London

Ref. Add. MS 23542, f. 59a. Diameter approximately 18.5 cm.

This is a world map drawn in line with the Islamic traditions, taken from al-lstakari’s original manuscript entitled Kitab al-masalik wa-al-mamalik [Book of Routes and Realms], a geographical treatise on the whole of the inhabited world. The map has South at the top and as per the Balkhi School of mapmakers, includes the Mediterranean and Indian Seas, with other standard features of the Islamic world maps. This is from a Persian translation of al-Istakhri’s manuscript copy dated 1836.

This manuscript contains 18 other maps of various provinces of the Islamic world, including those of Iraq, Mesopotamia, Egypt, North Africa, the Persian Gulf, Kerman, Khorasan, Fars, Sahastan [Sistan], Khawrazm [Oxiana], Khazar [Caspian], as well as the eastern region of the Caspian, entitled Arran, Azerbaijan and Arminiya.

The large sea shown on the left is a combination of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean shown with four circular islands. The sea on the right is the Mediterranean, with the downward curving Aegean Sea leading to the Black Sea, depicted as the bulge at the end of the curved line (though could conceivably be the Caspian Sea, which is not shown separately). The Mediterranean is bereft of any islands here, and the blue circle at bottom left is the Aral Sea. The large lip-like features on top of the map are the Mountains of the Moon, thought as being the source of the Nile, while the five parallel lines are the five sources, thereafter combining to form the Nile, flowing north into the Mediterranean.

The map shows Arminiya [Armenia] located southwest of the Caspian (or Back Sea), next to Azerbaijan. Countries around the Caucasian Mountains are Arminiya, Azerbaijan, Khazar, Vilayet Rum and Saqaliba. This map tends towards the more decorative rather than true representation of Islamic geography, a truer sample of which can be seen in the other illustrations herein.

An Arabic wheel-map, that of Abu Ishaq al-Farisi al-Istakhri and Abu al-Qasim Muhammad idn Hawqal (950-970). Re-oriented with North at the top, it clearly shows the strong tendency to geometrical stylization characteristic of the second period of Arab cartography. In the originals (shown above), South was normally at the top. Note also the curved, eastward extension of the southern part of Africa, a mistake that the Chinese were the first to correct
(from Needham after Reinaud)