Piri Reis’ Gorgeous Maps
One of the most beautiful collections of maps of the Mediterranean Sea, illustrated by the great Piri Reis in the 16th century.
We now know that we inhabit a territory that has little to do with its cartographic representations, but we also know that that has given us the most fascinating pieces and some of the greatest spatial metaphors in history. The maps of Piri Reis are perhaps not so well known, but they deserve pride of place for their strange aesthetics, their simplicity and wonderful use of color.
All of the maps are part of the Book of Navigation (Kitab-ı Bahriye) by Piri Reis, who was an Ottoman admiral famous for his cartographic talent. The maps contain detailed information on important ports and cities of the Mediterranean, where we can see how the areas of water are circumscribed by imposing and colorful linked mountain chains (the Alps, the Apennines, the Balkans, the Pyrenees, without forgetting the eminent Hellas and Lebanon) as if they were utopian fantasy kingdoms.
According to Public Domain Review, he produced his first map of the world in 1513, based on 20 other maps and letters that he had collected, including maps personally designed by Christopher Columbus that his uncle Kemal Reis obtained in 1501 after capturing seven Spanish ships off the coast of Valencia with various members of Columbus’ crew aboard.
The Mediterranean is perhaps one of the parts of the world that deserves that chromatic and luxurious imagination. After all it is the vast space that separates Europe from Africa and where cultures co-exist from contrasting periods of history (Roman Christianity – what we commonly call the West, the ancient culture of Greece, Constantinople, conquered by the Turks in 1453, as well as Islam, the Phoenicians, the Persians, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans and even the Sumerians).
There is something in them, however, that could well resemble the drawings that adorn Buddhas in Tibetan iconography. There is no doubt that Reis’ imagination was exquisite when he imagined those territories.
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