When the World was Upside Down: Maps from Muslim Civilisation

We tend to take many things for granted. Today, we are equipped with numerous means of communication and transport over land, sea and air. We have such freedom to swiftly travel around the globe, so much so that we tend to travel far and wide without ever considering the immense contributions others have made for our convenience. Great scholars from Muslim Civilisation, indeed, turned the world upside down with their maps; not just metaphorically but world maps once were literally upside down (with south dipicted at the top).

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Note of the Editor

This article was first composed by Cem Nizamoglu in the 1001 Inventions website. It has been later edited and updated by Cem Nizamoglu and Khaleel Shaikh.


A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.” Reif Larsen[1]

In today’s digital world, it appears as if every square inch of our planet has been mapped and recorded. Due to significant progressions in communication and travel, we tend to take much for granted. We would only have to look back to a time before the 20th century, when the cartographic tradition represented countless possibilities and inspired a curiosity of the unknown. Although many animals can mark and identify their territory, humans are the only species capable of cognitive mapping.[2] It is for this reason that cartography represents more than a means of location, but also a sense of human existence.[3]

People began to significantly explore the world 1000 years ago for reasons of commerce, exploration and for religion. As a result, the demand for increasingly accurate maps and locations of unknown continents arose. It is from this period of exploration, in our shared history, that some of the world’s most precious maps were created by scholars, cartographers, geographers and travellers. It is due to this curiosity, of the unknown, that detailed mathematical analysis was conducted to measure our land and seas, constructing what we now consider to be the early roots of cartography in Muslim Civilisation. Interestingly cartographers from the Muslim Civilisation often portrayed the world upside down, with south positioned at the top.

Figure 2. The Tabula Rogeriana, by Al-Idrisi in 1154, is one of the most detailed maps of the ancient world. This map has been rotated to show its similarity with modern maps (Source)

Across the Mediterranean Sea, both Muslims and Christians were making portolan charts, navigational maps with no agenda other than ensuring a safe voyage. Usually unadorned and concentrating on drawing and naming coastlines, these maps were used by merchants and pilots whose livelihoods and future prosperity depended on them getting from one place to another quickly and safely.” Jerry Brotton[4]

Much later, with the New World discoveries on the rise by the end of the 15th Century, maps from the Muslim Civilisation began to follow the modern cartographic traditions, of which we are familiar with today. There is no definitive reason why the old maps placed south on the top, but from a spatial perspective, what is traditionally seen as north or south is all relative. Nick Danforth states that “Europeans made the maps [because] they wanted to be on top”.[5]  This may be due to similar reasons why the Muslims placed themselves at the top of maps. Jerry Brotton implies “It can be assumed that Muslim cartographers living south of Mecca wished the Kaaba to be at the top”.[6] Another plausible reason could be that Muslims were simply following a previous ancient cartographic tradition. There is no exact evidence to suggest any of this, but the Muslims were known to use the ancient lore and in many cases improved upon and even corrected them. Whether they portrayed north or south on the top, with an agenda in mind or not, the Muslim Civilisation was flush with important and interesting maps. 

When the observer looks at these maps and these countries explained, he sees a true description and pleasing form” Al-Idirisi, 12th Cent.[7]

Here we introduce a few key examples of maps from the Muslim civilisation:


1. Al-Balkhi Map, 9th Century

2. Al-Istakhri Maps, 10th Century

3. Ibn Hawqal Map, 10th Century

4. Al-Masudi's Map, 10th Century

5. The Book of Curiosities Map, 11th Century

6. Mahmûd El Kaşgari Map, 11th Century

7. Al-Idrisi Map, 12th Century

8. al-Qazwini Map, 13th Century

9. Ibn al-Wardi Map, 14th Century

10. Piri Reis Map, 16th Century

11. Ali Macar Map, 16th Century

12. Tarih-i Hind-i Garbi Map, 16th Century

13. Kâtip Çelebi Map, 17th Century

14. Erzurumlu Ibrahim Hakki Map, 18th Century

15. Appendix I – Other Maps
     15.1 Taqwim-i ta'rikhi (Historical Calendar), 15th Century 
     15.2 Matrakci Map, 16th Century 
     15.3 Al-Rudani' Astrolobe

16. Appendix II - Further Contributions

17. Further Reading (Bibliography)

18. References 


1. Al-Balkhi Map, 9th Century

Figure 3. A map by Abu Zaid Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi (850-934), a Persian geographer who was a disciple of al-Kindi and also the founder of the "Balkhī school" of terrestrial mapping in Baghdad. Picture displayed on "Old Manuscripts and Maps from Khorasan" (Source)

Abu Zaid Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi was born in 850 CE. Originally from the Balkh province of Khorasan, he went on to travel extensively throughout the Muslim world. He founded the Balkhi School of terrestrial mapping in Baghdad, but also specialised in mathematics, physics, phycology and other general sciences. Although he was born and died in Khorasan, he spent much of his life in Baghdad where he was known amongst the literary community. The Balkhi School maps may appear to be simplistic in representation, however this was intentional, similar to the purpose of the simplified lines that make up the London Underground Map.[8]

The image of the world consists of five parts: the head, two wings, breast, and tail of a bird. The world’s head is China. Behind China is [a place] people called Wakwak. Behind this [country called] Wakwak are people whom no one except God counts [as one of his creatures]. The right wing is India, and behind India is the sea; behind this sea there are no creatures at all. The left wing represents Khazar [of the Caspian], and behind Khazar are two nations each of which is called Manshak and Mashak. Behind Manshak and Mashak are Gog and Magog, both of which are nations whom only God knows. The breast of the world represents Mecca, Hijaz [the western shore of the Arabian Peninsula], Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. The tail represents the land from dhat al-Plumdm [the frontier of Egypt] to the Maghreb [Northwest Africa]. The tail is the worst part of the bird." Ibn al-Faqih, 10th Cent.[9]

Although al-Balkhi is highly regarded as the originator of this cartographic school, some scholars hold their reservations due to the lack of surviving manuscripts that are actually from the time of al-Balkhi.[10] In fact, to this day, there is no existing map crafted directly from any of the four authors of the Balkhi school. The oldest surviving manuscript of this tradition dates back to the 11th century which is much later than the last of the Balkhi school’s authors. It is for this reason that some scholars hold their reservations on the origins of these maps. These cartographic manuscripts started to adopt the Balkhi name by scholars from the 18th,19th and 20th centuries. However, despite the origin of the al-Balkhi map being subjected to question, it is still popularly known as the "Balkhi World Map".


2. Al-Istakhri Maps, 10th century

Figure 4. A world map by Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Farisi al-Istakhri (934 CE) aka Estakhri. The map is oriented with South at the top, a common feature of maps at the time. Picture displayed on "Old Manuscripts and Maps from Khorasan" (Source)

Finally, I admit to having used Estakhri's maps because of the personal allure they hold for me. In my opinion they are the most abstract paintings of Islamic Iran.” Parvis Tanavoli[11]

Al-Istakhri was a traveller and scholar from the 10th century, who was born in Fars (Persia). His work is known to have been largely influenced by Al-Balkhi’s tradition and is seen as an extension of his work. Subsequently Al-Istakhri’s work had intrigued Ibn Hawqal and was a source for his inspiration and travels.[12] Al-Istakhri's most notable geographic work is the Kitab al-Masalik al-Mamalik. What little information we do have about him derives from a meeting between Al-Istakhri and Ibn Hawqal.[13] After his initial world map, al-Istakhri went on to author a series of twenty smaller, regional maps. These maps focused on different regions of the Muslim Civilisation.[14] Al-Istakhri is believed to have travelled through a number of Muslim nations including; parts of Arabia, Khuzistan, Daylam and the Indian sub-continent.[15] Interestingly, al-Istakhri is one of the first to record the existence of windmills, which were built by al-Masudi in Sijistan, 10th century.[16]

Al-Istakhri is similar to al-Muqaddisi in his treatment of the west, but to Ibn Hawqwal in his treatment of the east." Zayde Antrim[17]

Figures 5-7. Left: South Caucasus (Armenia) (Source), Centre: From Al-aqalim (Source), Right: Persian Gulf's coast (Source


3. Ibn Hawqal Map, 10th century

Figure 8. World map by Abu al-Qasim Muhammad b. Hawqal, commentated by Shiva Balaghi. This map is oriented with the South at the top (Source)

Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Hawqal was an enthusiastic traveller from the region of al-Jazira in modern day Turkey. It is thought that the inspiration for his largely nomadic lifestyle is accredited to al-Istakhri and Ibn Khordadbeh, both of which, are well respected geographers and cartographers. It is also believed that the Hanbali Jurist, Ibn Qudamah, was also a pivotal figure in Ibn Hawqal’s life.[18]

Unlike his predecessors, Ibn Hawqal was open to recording his biography in his works. He spent many years as a traveller, roaming extensively in the Muslim world from 943 to 973 CE. His works have a tendency to include economic details and this has led some scholars to assume that he was a Da`i or a travelling Muslim preacher.[19]    

They [Ibn Hawqal, al-Istakhri & al-Muqaddasi] produced many geographic works in the free academic atmosphere that flourished during the reign of the Buyid Rulers of the Abbasid dynasty.” Hyunhee Park[20]

It is through Ibn Hawqal’s encounters with reputable and influential figures in the Muslim Civilisation, that we can derive additional information about his life. The most reliable of these encounters was with the Vizier of ‘Abd al-Rahman III, a Jewish physician by the name of Hasday Ibn Shaprut. It is said that Ibn Hawqal had given the physician information on the Jews of the Orient in return for knowledge on the northern European nations of that time.[21]

Ibn Hawqal’s most notable works are Surat al-Ard and Kitab al-Masalik wa’l Mamalik (the Books of Routes and Kingdoms).

He (Istakhri) showed me the geographical maps in his work, and, when I had commented on them, he gave me his work with the words, ‘I can see that you were born under a lucky star, therefore take my work and make such improvements as you think fit’. I took it, altered it in several particulars, and returned it to him." Ibn Hawqal[22]


4. Al-Masudi's Map, 10th Century

Figure 9. al-Masudi was an Arab historian and geographer. The image above is a recreation of his map orientated with south at the top (Source)

Abu al-Hassan Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Ali al-Masudi was a direct descendant of Abdullah ibn Masud, a companion of the Prophet (PBUH). In his hometown of Baghdad, Al-Masudi was known as a great historian and geographer. He had travelled extensively throughout Persia, the Indian subcontinent, South East Asia, China and lastly the island of Madagascar in Africa. In 922, Al-Masudi returned to Baghdad where he composed his first summary of his travels; Muruj-al-Zahab wa al-Ma-adin al-Jawahir (Meadows of Gold and Mines of Precious Stones).[23]

His world map found in the Muruj-al-Zahab wa al-Ma-adin al-Jawahir, is a significant piece of geographical work, as it was more accurate compared to other maps of that time. Interestingly the map reveals a large piece of land past the “ocean of darkness and fog” which is thought to be the contour of South America.

Al-Masudi was also a geologist and mineralogist. He frequently studied earthquakes and even proposed a theory of life mutating from minerals to plant matter.

There can be no comparison between one who lingers among his kinsmen and is satisfied with whatever information reaches him about his part of the world, and another who spends a lifetime in travelling the world, carried to and fro by his journeys, extracting every fine nugget from its mine and every valuable object from its place of seclusion.” al-Masudi[24]


5. The Book of Curiosities Map, 11th Century

Figure 10. World map from the Book of Curiosities manuscript held at the Bodley Library (Source)

The rhyming title of the volume, Kitāb Gharāʾib al-funūn wa-mulaḥ al-ʿuyūn, loosely translates as The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes. For convenience, the treatise is referred to simply as The Book of Curiosities..." Y. Rapoport & E. Savage-Smith[25]

The Book of Curiosities, is a highly illustrated treatise on astronomy and geography. The manuscript consists of five books and includes a number of diagrams depicting the Heavens and mapping the Earth. Of these five books, only the first two, were purchased by the Bodley Library, while the other three are thought to be about horses, camels and hunting. The remaining books are preserved in Damascus. This manuscript is thought to have been composed in Egypt during the first half of the 11th century and was discovered recently by Emilie Savage-Smith, an expert in the field of Islamic Manuscripts.

The first book is devoted to describing the Heavens and its impact and relationship to the Earth. It also includes an illustrated discourse on celestial matters concerning comets and various stars. The Second book is divided into 25 chapters and is concerned with depicting and describing the Earth. Two different world maps are revealed in this manuscript, one being circular in shape and the other rectangular.

The Book of Curiosities, however, differs from the other Muslim medieval cartography popular at that time.[26] However, the Book of Curiosities maps still hold its place in the Muslim cartographic tradition, with its artistry and knowledge that it gives to the reader.

A rectangular map of the world unlike any other recorded ancient or medieval world map has been preserved in a recently discovered Arabic treatise dating from around 1200 and containing a total of seventeen maps and cartographic designs..." Y. Rapoport & E. Savage-Smith[27]

Figures 11-13. Mediterranean Sea (Source), Sicily (Source) and the Indian Ocean (Source)


6. Mahmûd El Kaşgari Map, 11th century

Figure 14. World map from Mahmud el-Kashgari's Diwan, 11th century (Source)

Mahmûd bin Hüseyin bin Muhammed El Kaşgari was originaly from Barskhan, which today, is in the country of Kyrgyzstan. Alhough El Kaşgari is believed to have been an Muslim Scholar, his recognised speciality was in the field of linguistics, specifically in Turkic Dialects. His extensive travels throughout central Asia exposed him to the varying spoken Turkic dialects and caused him to compose his most prestigious work, Divanu lugat it-Türk.[28]

In his world map from the Divanu lugat it-Türk, El Kaşgari intricately depicts the locations of different Turkic tribes from Europe all the way through to China. The map reveals just how diverse the Turkik speaking people really are and the extent to which they travelled across the world. Prof Sevim Tekeli has mentioned in her article "This book was written in order to teach the Arabs Turkish and to prove that the Turkish language was as important as Arabic."[29] Today only one copy remains of the Divan, dating back to the 13th century by al-Sâvî, a Persian polymath who claims he copied the Divan from the original manuscript.[30]

This map is unique as it is colour and shape coded for distinguishing different aspects. For example, the Turkish tribes in this map are marked and represented by yellow dots. El Kaşgari’s map is set apart from other maps of this period due to the fact that it focuses on mapping the locations of different tribes and their languages. Although this map may not be a typical map used for navigation it surely is a unique piece of early linguistic thought.[31]

Today, the Divanu lugat it-Türk is a priceless document for the linguistic and anthropological study of Inner Asia’s Turkic populations in Qarakhanid times.” Svat Soucek[32]


7. Al-Idrisi's World Map, 12th Century

Figure 15. Al-Idrisi's 12th century world map (Source)

One of the most remarkable products or medieval mapmaking...
…Perhaps the most striking feature is its orientation: south is at the top.” Jerry Brotton

Abu Abdullah Muhammad al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi al-Hasani as-Sabti, or simply Al-Idrisi, was a well-known 12th century Muslim geographer, cartographer and Egyptologist. He is responsible for one of the most famous maps appearing in the history of Muslim civilisation. Born in Ceuta, Morocco, he later moved to Palermo, Sicily.  

Al-Idrisi was a distinguished guest of the Sicilian Monarch Roger II, and spent much of his working life in Sicily. After completing his studies in Córdoba, he went on to travel extensively throughout the Mediterranean from Lisbon to Damascus. It was Roger II who had requested a group of geographers, with Al-Idrisi as the permanent secretary, to collate all available resources and compose an accurate world map. Of the twelve scholars commissioned to this cartographic project, ten of them were of the Muslim civilisation. The research required for this map took fifteen years after which the actual map making process began. This resulted in the creation of Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq fiikhtiraq al-afaq (Entertainment for He Who Longs to Travel the World"). The manuscript consists of 70 maps with its world map featured first in the collection. Al-Idrisi’s maps are some of the most mimetic works of the Middle Ages. His maps also portray a detailed grasp of the topography of the Mediterranean region.[34]

Figure 16. The original world map by al-Idrisi. On the left, shows how the map is supposed to be viewed with Makkah (Mecca) centred north of Arabia. On the right, the map has been flipped upside-down to show the modern approach when viewing the world map (Source)


8. al-Qazwini Map, 13th Century

Figure 17. Al-Qazwini's world map of the inhabited world, from cosmography (Source)

Zakariya Ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (1203-1283) was a Persian encyclopaedist known for his treatise on cosmography, Kitab ‘aja’ib al-makhluqat wa-ghara’ib al-mawjudat (Marvels of things created and miraculous aspects of things existing) and his geographical work, Athar al-bilad (Monuments of the lands). Both of these works were composed in Arabic and included maps of the world and of his hometown in Persia, the ancient city of Qazwin.

His maps follow the standard Muslim tradition portraying the southern parts of the world at the top. Interestingly he depicts the Indian Ocean to be enclosed by a section of Africa. This idea is thought to have been derived from Ptolemy. His world map (above) is decorated with gold leaf and silver, making this map one of the more aesthetic works from Muslim civilisation. This map is not only aesthetically beautiful, but also very informative as it even represents the seven climate zones, signified by paralleled red lines.

Best known of this genre [‘aja’ib or wondrous literary tradition of mapping] is the work of the thirteenth-century Iranian writer Zakariya ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud Abu Yahya al-Qazwini, whose work ‘Aja’ib al-makhluqat wa-ghara’ib al-mawjudat (The Wonders of Creatures and the Marvels of Creation) focuses on the wonders of the world – real and imaginary.” Karen C. Pinto[35]

Figures 18-20. left: 16th century copy of Al-Qazwini's world map from his “Marvels of Regions” (Source), centre: 15th century version of Al-Qazwini's world map, oriented with South at the top (Source), right: 14th century copy of Al-Qazwini's zonal world map from his Athar-al Bilad wa Akhbar al Ibad (Source)


9. Ibn al-Wardi Map, 14th Century

Figure 21. Ibn al-Wardi World Map 1001 AD orientated with south at the top (Source)

...it’s darkness [Bahr al-Muhit-Atlantic Ocean] is caused by the great distance from the place of sunrise and sunset… A sea to which no coast is known. Its depths are not known to anyone but God.” Ibn al-Wardi[36]

Abū Ḥafs Zayn al-Dīn ʻUmar ibn al-Muẓaffar Ibn al-Wardī, also known as Ibn al-Wardi, was a 13th century Arabian historian. His most notable work is the book entitled, Kharîdat al-'Ajâ'ib wa farîdat al-gharâib, or The Pearl of Wonders and the Uniqueness of Strange Things. This book contained one of his world maps and also included a picture of the Kaaba. Differentiating aspects such as climate, terrain, flora and fauna, population, lifestyle, states and government, Ibn al-Wardi describes in detail the characteristics of the Muslim World of that time. His depictions of the Nile are shockingly accurate as well as the boundary lines drawn to distinguish different counties.  

The first of a series of maps by Ibn al-Wardi is found in a genealogical manuscript called the Cream of Histories, Zübdetü’t-tevarih, by Seyyid Loqman ibn Hüseyin ibn el-’Asuri el-Urmevi.

Figures 22-25. A copy of Ibn al-Wardi's world map (Source), $140,000 Girard-Perregaux watch with al-Wardi's map (Source), a copy of al-Wardi's world map (Source) and a Czech National Library copy of al-Wardi's map, MS XVIII (Source)   


10. Piri Reis Map, 16th Century

Figure 26. Piri Reis's World map, 16th century (Source)

The Piri Reis map of 1513 is one of the most beautiful, most interesting, and most mysterious maps to have survived the Great Age of Discoveries. Yet it is one of the least understood maps of this momentous and remarkable period in the history of cartography and geographic explorations.” Gregory C. McIntosh[37]

One of the most controversial and enigmatic maps in the history of cartography…” Norman J. W. Thrower[38]

Piri Reis is perhaps the most well-known Ottoman-Turkish cartographer and admiral from the 16th century. His famous world map compiled in 1513 and discovered in 1929 at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, is the oldest known map showing the Americas. Despite being the earliest map showing the New World, it is also subjected to controversy according to some scholars.[39] His map is unique in the sense that it has drawn the attention of both mainstream and alternative scholars.

Piri Reis composed this map by using around twenty other maps from the likes of Columbus and some maps thought to have been passed down from Alexander the Great. Another thought-provoking feature of this map is that it accurately depicts the Antarctic continent attached to South America and interestingly reveals a section of the Antarctic continent without ice, which according to Captain Lorenzo W. Burroughs, a U.S. Air Force captain, is surprisingly accurate. More rational and conservative scholars suggest that these mysterious depictions are mere inaccuracies, a commonality in the cartographic traditions of that time.

Figures 27-30. Piri Reis' depiction of the Mediteranean (Source), Cyprus (Source), Venice (Source), Granada/Spain and its surrounding areas (Source)


11. Ali Macar Map, 16th century

Figure 31. Ali Macar's world map (Source)

The "Ali Macar Reis Atlas" is housed in the Topkapi Palace Museum Library in Istanbul. As a work of art, this atlas certainly ranks among the most successful. Composed in 1567, they are drawn on parchment leaves and bound in leather, forming an appealing small volume.

The artist-cartographer who drew these charts must have been professionally connected to those who drew other similar maps in Europe; and the perfection of this atlas strongly argues against it being the isolated work of a captain who would only have been imitating such models; the author must have been a craftsman with a sound grasp of cartographic know-how.

As Macar means Hungarian in Turkish, it seems that its [‘Ali Macar Reis atlas] author, ‘Ali Macar, was in fact a Hungarian geographer working for the Ottoman authorities, whose charts drew on his experience of both Ottoman and European regions to create a comprehensive atlas focused primarily on the Mediterranean.” Jerry Brotton[40]


12. Tarih-i Hind-i Garbi Map, 16th century

Figure 32. Tarih-i Hind-i Garbi map, 16th Century (Source)

The book entitled Tārih-i Hind-i Garbī (History of the West Indies), probably written by Muhammad b. Amir al-Suûdī al-Niksarī (d. 1591) in the 16th century, contains information about geographical discoveries and the New World (America). This work, based on Spanish and Italian geographical sources, was presented to Sultan Murād III in 1573.

The book tells many amazing stories of the explorations and conquests of Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro, and others, and it also endeavours to incorporate the new geographic information into the body of Islamic knowledge. It presents a major effort from an Ottoman Muslim scholar. It is quite unique for the 16th century; firstly, in transmitting by translation, information from one culture (European Christendom) to another (Ottoman Islam), and secondly, to correct and expand Islamic geography and cartography.

One of the major attractions of the Tarih-i Hind-i garbi is the visual material that many of its copies contain. Some of the manuscripts are illustrated with maps including the American continent...
...Of special interest is the anonymous author of the Tarih-i Hind-i garbi, or ‘history of the western Indies’, who hoped to encourage the Sultan of his time, presumably Selim II and/or Murad III to conquer at least a part of this remote continent [meaning West Indies].” Suraiya Faroqhi


13. Kâtip Çelebi Map, 17th century

Figure 33. Kâtip Çelebi World Map (Source)

Tuhfat Al-Kibâr fî Asfâr Al-Bihâr (The Gift to the Great Ones on Naval Campaigns) was written by Kâtib Çelebi in 1657 and emphasises the importance of the [Ottoman] activities in the seas and the Ottoman contribution to navigational history.

Kâtib Çelebi emphasised the importance of science in geography in the introduction of Tuhfat al-kibâr. He explained that the rulers of the state should know the frontiers and borders of the Ottoman State and the states in this region even if they do not know the whole of the Earth.

Katip Çelebi was clearly aiming at educating the Ottoman court and helping to formulate its imperial policies. But his work definitely found a larger audience both within and outside the Ottoman Empire in the following centuries.” Pinar Emiralioglu[42]

Çelebi valued history and asserted that most people overlook the value of this branch of knowledge and thus viewed history as if it were a tale. He expressed his complaint about this saying "who reads and listens to a letter of love and faithfulness?".

Figure 34. another World Map, Müteferrika edition of Tuhfat al-Kibar (Source)


14. Erzurumlu Ibrahim Hakki Map, 18th Century

Figure 35. Erzurumlu Ibrahim Hakki's World Map in his Marifetname book (Source)

Ibrahim Hakkı Erzurumi was born 18 May 1703 and died on 22 June 1780. He was an internationally renowned Turkish Sufi, philosopher and encyclopaedist.[43] He published his work Marifetname (Book of Gnosis) in 1756. It was a compilation and commentary on astronomy, mathematics, anatomy, psychology, philosophy, and mysticism. It is known for containing the first treatment of post-Copernican astronomy by a Muslim scholar. 

Ibrahim Hakki would commonly incorporate latitude and longitudinal lines in his maps, where he used the district of Tillo as ground zero. He also presumed that the Earth was geodic in shape and reveals this in a globe which he built with slightly flattened poles to point out that the Earth is not perfectly spherical. Atomic structures, gravity and the Earth's atmosphere and hydrosphere were other subject areas he touched upon. 

His book Marifetname, similar to an encyclopaedia, is a work that encompasses diverse subjects and many areas; religion, literature, Sufism, geography, history, cosmography, biology, fashion, and much, much more.” Şefik Can[44]


15. Appendix I – Other Maps

Here are some other maps that do not fit the description of ‘World maps’, but are worthwhile mentioning:

15.1 Taqwim-I ta’rikhi (Historical Calendar), 15th Century

Figure 36. Taqwim-I ta’rikhi, this map dates back to time of Murad II, 15th Century. Courtesy: The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Source)

This map, Taqwim-I ta’rikhi (Historical Calendar), is possibly the oldest existent Ottoman map. Interestingly, this map, as well as the other Ottoman maps, do not follow the typical medieval al-Balkhi or al-Istakhri cartographic tradition. The Ottomans were not familiar with these cartographic schools, rather, they drew their influence from a manuscript gifted to them from the east. This manuscript is still in existence and located in the Topkapi Saray Library in Istanbul, Ahmet 2830.[45]


15.2 Matrakci Map, 16th Century

Figure 37. City of Istanbul and Develi illumination from Matrakçi's Beyân-i Menâzil-i Sefer-i ‘Irakeyn (Source)

This aesthetic map would have been included in the list above, however Matrakci’s maps were designed for the single purpose of mapping cities and marking the locations of important civic buildings. Matrakci Nasuh was a famous Ottoman polymath, writer and knight who produced important books in several fields. He made contributions in the fields of mathematics, geography, history and calligraphy. Although little is known about Matrakci, he is thought to be of Bosnian origin because of his name. Although most of Matrakci’s works are considered to be pieces of art, some of his painting fall under the category of cartography because of their accuracy in depicting city roads, infrastructure and buildings.[46]  

The idea of incorporating topographic imagery into the illustrated manuscript tradition was carried even farther by Matrakci Nasuh who, upon commission of Suleyman, produced the lavishly illustrated Beyan-i Menazil in 1537 to commemorate Suleyman’s 1534-35 campain to the eastern frontier…” Bruce Alan Masters[47]

Read More

  • Muslim HeritageNasuh Al-Matrakci, A Noteworthy Ottoman Artist-Mathmetician of the Sixteenth Century, by Salim Ayduz
  • MatrakciNasuh.com: MATRAKÇI NASUH ‘’Nasuh bin Karagöz bin Abdullah el Bosnavi’’, by Beste Gürsu

Figures 38-40. Matrakci's Baghdad, Tebriz, Diyarbakir


15.3 Al-Rudani' Astrolobe 17th Century

Figure 41. Al-Rudani astrolabe, 17th century (Source)

Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān (Muḥammad) alFāsī ibn Ṭāhir alRudānī alSūsī alMālikī [alMaghribī], better known as al-Rudani, was a 17th century astronomer and scholar who was born in Morocco and died in Syria. He was known as a poet, mathematician, Hadith specialist, Quran Interpreter and an Arabic Grammar specialist.  

The image above is one of only three known Al-Rudani spherical astrolabes. Sold at an auction for close to $1 million[48], the astrolabe was beautifully made by the 17th century astronomer who put his inscription on the surface of the sphere in Medina. Known for his work on astronomical instruments, Al-Rudani, was also a poet and wrote on mathematics and grammar.

Read More

  • McGill UniversityRudānī: Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān (Muḥammad) al‐Fāsī ibn Ṭāhir al‐Rudānī al‐Sūsī al‐Mālikī [al‐Maghribī], by Salim Ayduz


16. Appendix II - Further Contributions

It was during the Abbasid Caliphate when Muslim Civilisation was said to have reached its peak. The Caliphs commissioned reports on roads to help their postmasters deliver messages to addresses within their empire. These accounts which initially resulted in the Book of Routes, laid the foundation for more intensive information gathering about far-away places and foreign lands with their physical landscape, production capabilities and commercial activities. With the development of more accurate astronomy and mathematics, map plotting became a respected branch of science.

Geography became an important field of study especially with the work of Al-Khwarizmi, one of the earliest scientific descriptive geographers and a highly talented mathematician. His famous book, The Form of the Earth, inspired a generation of writers in Baghdad and Muslim Spain (Al-Andalus). It became a major source of inspiration to unearth, analyse and record geographical data among many well-known scholars after him.

There are many more names that contributed to the geography field from Muslim Civilisation to the Modern World such as:

  • al-Muqaddisiborn in 946 CE, was a medieval Arab geographer from Jerusalem. He had a privileged education and travelled throughout much of the Muslim world. In 985 CE, he settled down to write his book Aḥsan al-taqāsim fī maʿrifat al-aqālīm (The Best Divisions in the Knowledge of the Regions). His book gives us a detailed account of the different regions and places in which he spent time.
  • Al-Razi, known in Europe as Rhazes. He compiled a basic geography of the Iberian Peninsula
  • Mohammed Ibn Yousef Al-Warraq committed to paper the topography of North Africa. 
  • Al-Bakri who was an accomplished scholar and litterateur, wrote an important geographical work devoted to the Arabian Peninsula and the names of various places.
  • Ibn Baitar of Malaga was driven by his genuine interest in pharmaceutical herbs and flowers to explore every nook and cranny of the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb (Morocco).
  • Ibn Khaldun, a Tunisian adventurer, university professor and diplomat, is known for his works of sociology, economics, commerce, history, philosophy, political science and anthropology. He wrote his famous History of the World during a period of enforced exile. 
  • Ahmad ibn Majid, a poet and a navigator, also known for assisting Vasco da Gama in his quest of South Africa and for his Book of Useful Information on the Principles and Rules of Navigation.
  • In addition to other travellers like famous Ibn Battuta, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, Ibn Jubair, Zheng He or other know or unknown geographers from different backgrounds such as Miskawayh, Ibn Rustahal-Tartushi, Ahmad al-Ya’qubi, Ibn Qutiya, al-Maqqari, Ibn al-Athir, Yaqut al-Hamawi, Abu al-Fidaand, ibn Abi Bakr al-Zuhari and many more...

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  • Related Muslim Heritage Articles (Link)


17. Further Reading (Bibliography) 


To put a city in a book, to put the world on one sheet of paper -- maps are the most condensed humanized spaces of all...They make the landscape fit indoors, make us masters of sights we can't see and spaces we can't cover.” Robert Harbison[49]


18. References

[1] “The Young and Prodigious T. S. Spivet” by Reif Larsen, Random House, 1 Mar 2014, Page 138.

[2] Cognitive Mapping: Definitions, Examples, and Resources. (Link)

[3] “Great Maps” by Jerry Brotton, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 1 Sep 2014, Preface Page 7.

[4] ibid.

[5] “How the north ended up on top of the map” by Nick Danforth (Link) [Archived]

[6] op. cit. Jerry Brotton, Page 47

[7] op. cit. Jerry Brotton, Page 7

[8] “Byzantine Trade, 4th-12th Centuries” by Marlia Mundell Mango, Routledge, 5 Dec 2016. Page 18.

[9] cartographic-images.net: Balkhi World Map: “Some contemporaries continued to follow much earlier traditional methods of geography that portrayed the world as a landmass in the shape of a bird with China as its head. For example, the 10th century writer Ibn al-Faqih (flourished 902.)” (Link) [Archived]

[10] “Medieval Islamic Maps: An Exploration” by Karen C. Pinto, Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016, Page 55.

[11] “Persian Flatweaves: A Survey of Flatwoven Floor Covers and Hangings and Royal Masnads” by Parviz Tanavoli, Antique Collectors' Club, 2002, Page 333

[12] op. cit. Karen C. Pinto, Page 56.

[13] World Map of al-Istakhri. (Link) [Archived]

[14] “Religion, Learning and Science in the 'Abbasid Period” by M. J. L. Young, J. D. Latham & R. B. Serjeant Cambridge University Press, 2 Nov 2006, Page 314.

[15] op. cit. Karen C. Pinto, Page 55.

[16] “History of The Arabs” by Philip K. HittiPalgrave Macmillan, 26 Sep 2002, Page 385.

[17] "Routes and Realms: The Power of Place in the Early Islamic World" by Zayde Antrim, Oxford University Press, 15 Jan 2015, Notes 18, Page 176

[18] Ibn Hawqal. (Link) [Archived].

[19] World Map of Ibn Hawqal - “Ibn Hawqal’s treatise, The Book of Roads and Provinces, is a documented derivative.  While traveling in the valley of the Indus, Ibn Hawqal met al-Istakhri and this is a description of that fateful meeting” (Link)

[20] “Mapping the Chinese and Islamic Worlds: Cross-Cultural Exchange in Pre-Modern Asia” by Hyunhee Park, Cambridge University Press, 27 Aug 2012, Page 75.

[21] Ibn Hawqal AB. (Link) [Archived].

[22] World Map of Ibn Hawqal - “Ibn Hawqal’s treatise, The Book of Roads and Provinces, is a documented derivative.  While traveling in the valley of the Indus, Ibn Hawqal met al-Istakhri and this is a description of that fateful meeting.” (Link)

[23] “Al Masudi” by Prof. Ahmed, N. (Link)

[24] Quote by Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn ibn Ali al-Masudi; op. cit. Karen C. Pinto, Page 153.

[25] “An Eleventh-Century Egyptian Guide to the Universe: The Book of Curiosities, Edited with an Annotated Translation” by Yossef Rapoport and Emilie Savage-Smith, BRILL, 25 Oct 2013, Introduction, Page 1

[26] op. cit. Karen C. Pinto, Page 22.

[27] “Cartography in Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Fresh Perspectives, New Methods” by Richard J. A. Talbert, and Richard Watson, BRILL, 2008, Page 121.

[28] “A History of Inner Asia” by Svat Soucek, Cambridge University Press, 17 Feb 2000. Cambridge University Press. p. 88.

[29]  “The Oldest Map of Japan Drawn by Mahmud of Kashgar” by Seyim Tekeli (Link)

[30] Ibid.

[31] op. cit. Karen C. Pinto, Page 54.

[32] op. cit. Svat Soucek, Page 88.

[33] op. cit. Jerry Brotton, Page 47, Preface Page 47.

[34] op. cit. Karen C. Pinto, Page 25.

[35] op. cit. Karen C. Pinto, Page 27.

[36] op. cit. Karen C. Pinto Page 157.

[37] “Piri Reis Map of 1513” by Gregory C. McIntosh, University of Georgia Press, 15 Mar 2012, Introduction, Page 1.

[38]  ibid. Page xi

[39] op. cit. Karen C. Pinto, Page 25.

[40] “Trading Territories: Mapping the Early Modern World” by Jerry Brotton, Reaktion Books, 1997, Page 115.

[41] “The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It” by Suraiya Faroqhi, I.B.Tauris, 3 Mar 2006, Page 198.

[42] “Geographical Knowledge and Imperial Culture in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire” by Pinar Emiralioglu, Routledge, 5 Dec 2016, Page 150.

[43] “Fundamentals of Rumi's Thought: A Mevlevi Sufi Perspective” by Şefik Can, Tughra Books, 2004, Page 251

[44] ibid. Page 251

[45] op. cit. Karen C. Pinto, Page 249-50

[46] “The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It” by Suraiya Faroqhi, I.B.Tauris, 3 Mar 2006, Page 197.

[47] “Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire” by Gábor Ágoston and Bruce Alan Masters, Infobase Publishing, 21 May 2010 – Turkey, Page 267

[48] A Rare and Important Spherical Astrolabe (Link) (Archived)

[49] “Eccentric Spaces” by Robert Harbison, MIT Press, 1977, Forward Page.

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