TITLE: ’Aj’ib al-makhluquat [The Marvels of Created Things]

DATE:  13th century

AUTHOR:  Zakariya Ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (1203-1283)

DESCRIPTION: The following map was found in a manuscript measuring 35.6 x 22.9 cm, with 230 paper leaves, richly illuminated title-pages and numerous miniatures.  On fols. 52vo-53r is a double-page circular world map with a diameter of 30.5 cm.  The map depicts the Islamic world, centering upon the Indian Ocean.  As in most Moslem maps, it is oriented with South at the top.  The Indian Ocean is represented as enclosed by an eastern extension of Africa, a notion probably descended from Ptolemy.  Near the irregular and misunderstood peninsula of India clusters a group of islands.  The circular bulge represents Arabia with the twin rivers of Mesopotamia nearby illustrating a non-existent connection between the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea.  This latter sea is much constricted and distorted.  It tapers sharply toward the west, where it is inscribed, Gulf of the West.  The eastern reach of the Mediterranean is labeled Sea of Egypt, and into it flows the great Nile with its many-branched sources.

The map is rendered entirely in silver and gold colors, achieving a splendid decorative effect.  It is possible that this reflects some prototype made upon a plaque of silver, of which several renowned Moslem examples have been recorded by medieval historians.  The gold ribbons may designate the borders of the Moslem world.  The red parallel lines represent the seven climatic zones, about which al-Qazwini has a great deal to say.

The author Zakariya Ibn Muhammad al-Kazwini or Qazwini (1203-1283), sometimes called the ‘Moslem Pliny’, was a Persian encyclopedist who composed in Arabic, two treatises, a cosmography, Kitab ‘aja’ib al-makhluqat wa-ghara’ib al-mawjudat [Marvels of things created and miraculous aspects of things existing], and a geography, Athar al-bilad  [Monuments of the lands]. The influence of his texts on later geographical writers was considerable. The maps appear in copies of both works. The former work deals with the subjects of planets, stars, angels, the elements, minerals, plants, and animals.  As in the case of the encyclopedias of medieval Europe, the work is a compilation of the superficial knowledge of the day, without much attempt to interpret or integrate it with contemporary data. However, its influence was still far-reaching, and it was quoted, paraphrased and translated for centuries.  The illustrations, likewise, were handed down in traditional form. Many of al-Qazwini’s manuscript copies also contain a map of his native city of Qazwin, one of the ancient cities of Iran. It must however be mentioned that the maps in different manuscripts of the same work do differ from each other significantly. Transliterations of al-Qazwini’s version can also be found in Konrad Miller’s Mappae arabicae, Band 5,129-30 (Bild 6 and 7) (note 7).

This silver and gold painted Islamic map of the world is from another copy of the Persian translation of al-Qazwini’s 13th century manuscript Athãr-al Bilãd wa Akhbãr al Ibãd [Monuments of Places and History of God’s Bondsmen] whose estimated copy date is 1580. The present map is highly ornate, detailed and covered with silver and gold leaf, gold for the mountains and silver for the seas.

Like many other maps of al-Qazwini, this too shows the seven climatic zones and indeed the emphasis of the map is on the climatic observations and related detailed descriptions. The map has South at the top. Outside the northernmost zone, below the seven habitable zones the inscription reads: There is not enough sun and due to the cold there are no animals here. To the south of the seven inhabited zones the inscriptions read: There is no information about this region and due to the extreme heat there are no animals in this region. This is reminiscent of Macrobius’ (#201) central “Torrid” or “Perusta” (parched) zone. The north polar area bears the inscription: In this region from Aries to Libra is one day from Libra to Aries is one night. The inscription in the South Pole reads: From the beginning of Libra to the end of Pisces is one day and from Aries to the end of Virgo - one night.

Al-Qazwini world map from his Monuments of Places, copy dated 1580,
Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, USA, Ref. W 593, ff. 52v-53r, 30.5 cm diameter.

The above indicate the extent of Islamic cartographers’ knowledge regarding the solar day cycles at extreme latitudes, though there is the possibility that these legends may have been added to the 13th century original map by latter-date copiers.

Most of the map is occupied by Africa and the unknown southern lands, while Europe and Asia occupy most of the lower half at the map. The seven inscriptions in the left specify the zones and give their dimensions.

The sea to the left of the map (east) is the Pacific Ocean and the one in the top middle is the Indian Ocean with the Arabian Sea. The peninsula surrounded by six islands is China, and to its right is the Indian Sea [Gulf of Bengal]. The other gulf further to the right, with three rivers pouring in, is the Persian Gulf. Next is Arabia shown as a circular bulge protruding into the Indian Ocean/Arabian Sea, with Bahr-i-Kulzum [the Red Sea] at its west (right). The River Nile is shown with eight tributaries, which join together to flow into another lake and thence to the Mediterranean, which is the unevenly shaped sea connected at the right to the surrounding ocean and named Bahr-i-Misr [Sea of Egypt]. The Black Sea branches from the middle of the Mediterranean and extends northwards to join the ocean at the north of the landmass. The rivers Dejle [Tigris) and Forat [Euphrates] are shown connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. Parts of the Caspian Sea are obscured by the close binding in the centerfold of the map. The rivers Arax and Kura we also depicted joining and flowing into the Caspian, the former being connected to the River Tigris and toe latter to the Black Sea. Between the Tigris and Arax rivers the inscription Arminiya [Armenia] can faintly be made out. Armenia is flanked by the cities of Tabriz and Erzrum. The small rectangular lake at the left (east) of the fold is the Sea of Aral, with the rivers Jeihun [Oxus, or Amu-Darya] and Seihun [Jaxartes or Sir-Darya) rising from Central Asia and flowing into it.

Another map is found also in a manuscript of al-Qazwini’s ‘Aja’ib al-makhluqat. It is dated on internal evidence to the early 17th century, although as a writer al-Qazwini (died 1283) is considerably earlier than al-Harrani (fl. 1330, #214.4) or Ibn al-Wardi (died 1457, #214.1).  It is difficult to know whether this al-Qazwini map is the forerunner of the Ibn al-Wardi map or a less formal version developed at a later date.  All three authors were cosmological writers whose works were popular right into the Ottoman period and in India.  The map from al-Qazwini’s work has a flowing Nile instead of a rectangular one and a rather formless Mediterranean, though much of the rest has the geometrical stiffness of the true Ibn al-Wardi maps.

Most of the manuscripts of al-Qazwini’s ‘Aja’ib al-makhluqat have a completely different map of the world. This is the third type of world map and represents al-Biruni’s sketch map of the distribution of land and sea (#214.3).  In al-Qazwini’s texts this map tends to become stylized.  The south coast of the land is stretched across the middle of the world circle and consists of a series of roughly parallel peninsulas separated by symmetrical bays.  These peninsulas are China, India, Arabia, and Africa.  The northern coast of the landmass follows the circle around, leaving a series of indentations where Europe and the Mediterranean are expected.  The Nile appears as a wide channel dividing Africa in two, and this may be the origin of the double peninsula for southern Africa that appears in some later maps.  Finally, the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea appear as two “bubbles” in the middle of the land.

al-Qazwini world map, 1032/1662

(oriented with South at the top)

al-Qazwini world map, 1340

(oriented with South at the top)

World map of Mustawfi al-Qazwini’s, 1258, 15.5 cm diameter
oriented with South at the top

World map of Hamd Allah Mustawfi
re-oriented with North at the top and labeled

Hamd Allah Mustawfi’s world map, described by Hyunhee Park, also uses a grid, although it does not display longitude and latitude. The map resembles the earlier sketch of land and sea that al-Qazwini drew in the 13th century, including its separation of Africa into two peninsulas. His division of Africa that situates the Mountain of the Moon (the source of the Nile) in the eastern half of the continent and the Maghreb (i.e., Northeast Africa) in the western half resembles the earlier anonymous map in the Treasury of Tabriz. At the same time, Hamd Allah Mustawfi portrays the Eurasian and African landmasses more realistically, and not simply as a diagram with fixed geographic shapes. Clearly, Hamd Allah Mustawfi attempted to represent the world in a new way, rather than simply borrow earlier ideas. Hamd Allah Mustawfi’s map also differs significantly from the sketch maps of al-Qazwini and the Treasury of Tabriz map in its depiction of China. In fact, he does not present the country clearly at all. He confuses China (Arabic name al-Sin) with several places in Central Asia. Despite the fuzzy representation of China on this map, his written survey of foreign countries provides a fuller and more complex description of China’s geographic features. Hamd Allah Mustawfi consulted earlier Arabic geographers like Ibn Khurdadhbih in researching his treatise; however, he also adds unprecedented information about countries based on Persian sources. For example, he divides China politically into Chin, Khitay, and Machin — the same divisions that Rashid al-Din used in his Compendium of Chronicles.

Hamd Allah Mustawfi sets himself apart from his predecessors by dividing foreign countries into two categories: Those that have close relation with the Il-khanate and those that were situated far from the Islamic world and were not built by Mongol governors. Curiously, he places all three regions of China in the second category. Hamd Allah Mustawfi’s, account of China contains both old and new information. For example, in his description about Chin [North China formerly under Jurchen rule], he accurately says that the Mongols designated this land as Manzi at that time. The claims in this passage — that the majority of the population worshiped idols, that all arts and crafts had reached perfection, and that numerous great cities flourished throughout the land — mostly constitute the recycling of earlier accounts of China and present the same stereotypes of China and the Chinese that appear in earlier Muslim accounts. Interestingly, Marco Polo makes similar points in his account of China.

That said, Hamd Allah Mustawfi’s plausible longitudinal and latitudinal figures distinguish his geography from previous generations of Islamic geographers. This is evident in the passage about the capital of Chin at 125°/22°. Interestingly, the treatise also follows the traditional system of grouping the world into seven different climes, locating the broad wide kingdom of Chin stretching over the second, third, and fourth climes. Hamd Allah Mustawfi applied the same method in developing his sections on Khitay and Machin:

Khitay [Khitai (Cathay), North China formerly under Khitan rule]. This is a great kingdom of the Fourth and Fifth Climes. Its capital is Khan Baligh [Khanbaligh] in the Fifth Clime, whose longitude is 124°, and latitude 37°. This is a mighty city, and it was called originally Changda; and Qubilay Khan built another city outside the same. Of other great towns and well-known districts are the following: Nanking [Nanjing], where a great river runs through the city, Tabaksik [?], Qal’ah Shikat [?], and Almaska [?]. Further, and besides there are many others.

His description of Khitay’s capital Khan Baligh, built by Khubilai Khan, certainly utilizes updated information, most likely from Rashid al-Din’s work. The same applies to his description of Machin:

Machin [the part of South China that was under southern Song rule]. A great and extensive kingdom that the Mongols know as Nankiyas. It is of the First and Second Climes, and its capital is the city of Khansay [Hangzhou], which some call Siyahan. They say that in all the habitable world there is no greater city than this, or at any rate that in the regions of the east there is no larger town. There is a lake in the midst of the city, six leagues in circumference, and the houses of the town stand round its borders....

Hamd Allah Mustawfi’s image of Machin as a great and extensive kingdom and its Mongol name Nankiyas match the account of Rashid al-Din. His description of its capital Khansay as the largest city in the world with a large lake in the middle and a great population echoes the account by Marco Polo, who stated that “it is without doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world.” He continues describing Khansay’s warm climate and abundant sugarcane and rice crop production, the city’s great population that extends upwards of 10,000, and its political situation in which a few Muslims hold power over the many non-Muslim Chinese.

These sources show that Muslims living in the Il-khanate in Iran made quite significant advancements in the development of geography and cartography of the world during the Mongol period.

This map is in the British Museum. In Gunnar Thompson’s book The Friar’s Map (1996), p. 174 he describes the following theory: “The map has a long peninsula east of Asia across the Indian Ocean (Pacific Ocean) that seems to correspond to Ptolemy’s Cattigara Peninsula (a.k.a. the Tiger Leg) across the Sinus Magnus or Great Gulf that Magellan identified as the Pacific Ocean. This peninsula is called Waq Waq on this map. On many other maps, this designation has been used for South Africa, however not on Mustawfi al-Qazwini. Thompson showed this map to Professor Fazi Khoury of the Far Eastern Studies Department at the University of Washington in Seattle, and he said: “This is conclusive proof that the Muslims discovered America. All the history books will have to be rewritten.” Geographical names on the map were translated by the Seattle Arabic Language Service:

Al-Qazwini’s sketch of the distribution of land and sea from his Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing, 13 cm diameter, late 13th century
(this manuscript is dated 1539)

Bodleian Library, Oxford MS. Pococke 350, fol. 73v

Al-Qazwini’s sketch of the distribution of land and sea from his Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing, 13 cm diameter, late 13th century
(this manuscript is dated 1539)

Bodleian Library, Oxford MS. Pococke 350, fol. 73v

Al-Qazwini’s sketch of the distribution of land and sea from his Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things - Re-oriented with North at the top with place-names.

The earliest example of scholars who wrote geographic accounts under Mongol patronage, the famous Iranian geographer and cosmographer Zakariya’ b. Muhammad al-Qazwini, exemplifies this innovative trend in geography and cartography in the Islamic world. Born into a family that settled in Qazvin in Persia, al-Qazwini served politically in several localities throughout the Il-khanate, including Persia, Baghdad, Mesopotamia, and Syria. After his retirement, he wrote his two monumental works, one geographical and the other cosmographical. His geographical dictionary, entitled Athar al-bilad [Monuments of the Lands], drew heavily on Yaqut’s Geographical Dictionary, written earlier in the century. Al-Qazwini innovatively rearranged Yaqut’s rubrics from seven climates to the letters of the alphabet: Nonetheless, the work borrows heavily from Yaqui. Most importantly, however, al-Qazwini’s Geographical Dictionary provides clear evidence that Arabic geographic traditions continued to influence academic circles in the Islamic world under Mongol-rule profoundly.

A map sketch of the world found in al-Qazwini’s famous 'Ajdib al-makhlriqat wa-ghardib al-mawji-idat [Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing] also reveals the continued influence of the earlier Arabic geographic tradition in the lands of the Islamic world under Mongol rule. Witten in Arabic, this treatise has unique significance as the first Muslim cosmography. While it concentrates mainly on supra-terrestrial matters like angels, the second part of al-Qazwini’s book describes the division of the earth into seven climates and charts the world’s known seas and rivers. His description of China contains no new information and simply describes the country as a large territory with many people and resources. Yet the attached sketch showing the distribution of land and water in the world is noteworthy because of its unique portrayal of China and Africa.

This sketch map by al-Qazwini was obviously influenced by that of al-Biruni from the 11th century (#214.3). The two maps differ, however. Al-Qazwini’s map portrays China as a major subcontinent at the eastern edge of the northern hemisphere; that is, as an important and large region as big as India and the Arabian world. It continues to depict Africa as a continent in shape but cleaves Africa into two halves divided by the Nile River. In fact, al-Biruni was the first geographer who argued that the Indian Ocean must be connected to the Atlantic through waters that ran south of the Mountains of the Moon, the legendary sources of the Nile. It is likely that al-Qazwini, who was influenced by al-Biruni when drawing this sketch, applied al-Biruni’s theory faithfully. This trend was imitated by many later cartographers in various ways.

What new sources did al-Qazwini use to write his geographic studies including the sketch map? The scholar dedicated Marvels of Things Created to the governor of Baghdad, Juwayni, who authored History of the World-Conqueror, a chronicle of Chinggis Khan. Thus, al-Qazwini perhaps wrote his studies in an academic circle patronized by Juwayni. The Baghdad governor’s History provides important information about the political developments surrounding the Mongol conquest in Persia and elsewhere. Al-Qazwini probably received some information or ideas about China from his patron, who had access to up-to-date information about eastern Asia. Juwayni learned about the Mongols in the course of serving them, in addition to gaining knowledge about the Qara-Khitai in Central Asia and the Uighurs further east. The scholarly governor probably continued to amass more information about the wider world and this influenced other scholars in the Il-khanate like al-Qazwini.

The accumulation of knowledge among Muslim scholars culminated in a work that was written at the apogee of Mongol dominion over Eurasia and deeply influenced Muslim thinking about the world. The Compendium of Chronicles, written first in Persian and immediately translated into Arabic, was compiled in 1308 by Rashid al-Din (1247— 1318), the son of a Jewish apothecary family who converted to Islam during his early adolescence. He rose to prominence in the court of the seventh Il-khanate ruler Ghazan Khan, and eventually served as prime minister where he became well known for his many economic reforms. Perhaps in gratitude, Ghazan Khan gave Rashid al-Din a special commission to write this monumental work. This work initiated a new genre of writing in Muslim scholarship, one that covers the historical developments of the world’s diverse societies in unified fashion and chronological order. Rashid al-Din originally sought to write a history of the Il-khanate in order to commemorate the origins, history and achievements of the Mongols. However, Ghazan died just before the book’s completion and his successor Oljeitü (reigned 1304-1316) took over sponsorship of the project and broadened its scope to embrace a history of the entire world.

LOCATIONS:   Walters Art Gallery, fols. 52vo-53r

  Forschungs-bibliothek, Gotha, MS. Orient A. 1507, fols. 95b-96a

  Boleian Library, MS. Pococke 350, fol. 73v, Oxford

  University of Manchester Library, UK Arabic MS 313[668] iv

  U.S. National Library of Medicine. MS P 1, fols. 71b-72a

  British Library, London, MS. Or. MS 3623, f. 5a

  University of Manchester Library, UK, Rylands Collection, Persian MS

  403, 199v


*Brown, L. A., The World Encompassed, no. 18, Plate IV.

*Galichian, R., Countries South of the Caucasus in Medieval Maps: Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, pp. 118-121.

*Harley, J. B., The History of Cartography, Volume Two, pp. 138, 143-44, 53, 59-60, Plate 9.

*Hessler, John and Chet Van Duzer, Seeing the World Anew, p. 21, Figure 15.

*Miller, K., Mappae arabicae, Band 5,129-30 (Bild 6 and 7) (note 7).

*Park, H., Mapping Chinese and Islamic Worlds, pp. 129-131, Figures 4.1, 4.3, 145.

*Sarton, An Introduction to the History of Science, volume II, Plate 2, pp. 727-728, 868-870.

*Thompson, G., The Friar’s Map of Ancient America 1360 A.D., p, 174


Reproduction of Qazwini world maps from Konrad Miller

World map in the ca. 1553 manuscript of al-Qazwini showing the New World (right side) similar to the 1507 representation by Waldseemüller (Book IV, #310).

Oriented with South at the top,

World Map in 1565 Persian manuscript of al-Qazwini’s Wonders of Creation

al-Qazwini world map from 1325, oriented with South at the top

al-Qazwini world map, oriented with South at the top

A map of the inhabited world, from ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt [Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing] by al-Qazwīnī
U.S. National Library of Medicine. MS P 1, fols. 71b-72a. The copy was made in 1537/944, probably in western India. Neither the copyist nor illustrator is named.

The map shown below is one of al-Qazwini’s maps form the Monuments of Places. It is oriented with South at the top and is very basic, omitting even the oceans and landmasses. The map is typical Islamic, with the inhabited world divided into seven climatic zones, from south to north. The inhabited world is located between the Equator and the North Polar Zone. The first zone is near the equator and the region near the North Pole above the seventh zone is the Northern uninhabited zone.

The seven parallel climatic zone lines dominate the map, with the gulfs represented by wedge-like shapes, cutting into the climatic zones. These wedges are named (from the left) the Ahdar Gulf, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of the Berbers. The circle in the middle is the Caspian Sea and the two slanted parallel lines to its right are inscribed Bahr-ul Maghrib wa al-Rum wa al-Sham [the Sea of the West, Rome and the Sham] – i.e., the Mediterranean Sea.

The countries shown on the map are predominantly Islamic ones, but some non-Islamic countries such as Rum [Byzantium], Bulgaria, Saqaliba [the Slavs] and Rus [Russia] are also featured. Armenia also appears in the neighborhood of the Caspian Sea and Russia. The legends inside the zones from one to seven (top to bottom) from the right include:

Zone 1    Khalij Berber [Gulf of Berbers], Yemen, Omman, Khalij Fars [Persian Gulf], Khalij

  Akhdar [the Green gulf, possibly Gulf of Bengal], al-Chin.

Zone 2    Tanjeh [Tangiers], Bilad Berber, Lesser Egypt, Hijaz, al-Sir

Zone 3    Andalus, Bilad Afriqiye, Iskandarieh [Alexandria], Beyt ul-Muqaddas [Jerusalem],

  Shiraz, Kirman, Mokran, Sind, Hind, Kandahar, Machin.

Zone 4    Bahr el-Rum va al-Sham [Mediterranean], Diarbekir, Iraq, Djebal,

Khurassan, Shaja, Badakhshan, Atachin, Tlbbet

Zone 5    Afranje [France], Qostantanieh [Constantinople], Bahri Khazar [Caspian], Rus,

  Armin[rya], Khawrazm, Bein ul-Nahrein [Oxiana], Sadd-Taran (?), al-Turk [the


Zone 6    Bilad Alman [Germany], Saqaliba, Rus, Bahri Khawrazm [Aral Sea], Qipchagh

   [Polovtsians], Bamian, Kaimaii

Zone 7    Maghrib, Batin ul-Rum [Byzantium interior], Bulghar, Bahri Warang [Baltic or

   Northern Sea], Gog and Magog.

Outside the climatic zones, in the southern hemisphere (upper part) there a few provinces listed, including Sauad al-Maghhb [Black races of the West], Habash [Ethiopia], Zangebar [Zanzibar] Nubia and Al-Zinj [East Africa, could also refer to the city of Zinj in Bahrain]. The vertical legend in the center of the map indicates the Equator.

Al-Qazwini zonal world map from his Athar-al Bilad wa Akhbar al Ibad, 1329,
British Library, London, MS. Or. MS 3623, f. 5a (water damaged), Size 23x35 cm.

Al-Qazwini world map from his “Marvels of Regions”, 1582,
University of Manchester Library, UK Arabic MS 313[668] iv, 226 x 135 mm

The mountain called “mountain of the moon”, and the sources of the Nile are the extreme south; the Russians and Bulgarians, Constantinople, and Gog and Magog the extreme North

Al-Qazwini world map from his Cosmography “Delight of Hearts”, 1619, 247 x 145 mm, University of Manchester Library, UK, Rylands Collection, Persian MS 403, 199v

Map of the World, 15th century, 18.1 x 10 cm, The Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar, Ms 228.1998
oriented with South at the top