Al-Idrisi's Map, 1154, After the Ancient Sea Kings
The Nuzhat al-mushtāq fi'khtirāq al-āfāq (Arabic: نزهة المشتاق في اختراق الآفاق, lit. "the book of pleasant journeys into faraway lands"), most often known as the Tabula Rogeriana (lit. "The Book of Roger" in Latin), is a description of the world and world map created by the Arab geographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi, in 1154. Al-Idrisi worked on the commentaries and illustrations of the map for fifteen years at the court of the Norman King Roger II of Sicily, who commissioned the work around 1138.
The book, written in Arabic, is divided into seven climate zones (in keeping with the established Ptolemaic system), each of which is sub-divided into ten sections, and contains maps showing the Eurasian continent in its entirety, but only the northern part of the African continent. The map is oriented with the North at the bottom. It remained the most accurate world map for the next three centuries. The text incorporates exhaustive descriptions of the physical, cultural, political and socioeconomic conditions of each region and each of the seventy sections has a corresponding map.
To produce the work al-Idrisi interviewed experienced travelers individually and in groups on their knowledge of the world and compiled "only that part... on which there was complete agreement and seemed credible, excluding what was contradictory." Roger II had his map engraved on a silver disc weighing about 300 pounds. It showed, in al-Idrisi's words, "the seven climatic regions, with their respective countries and districts, coasts and lands, gulfs and seas, watercourses and river mouths."
On the work of al-Idrisi, S. P. Scott commented:
Ten manuscript copies of the Book of Roger currently survive, five of which have complete text and eight of which have maps. Two are in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, including the oldest, dated to about 1325. (MS Arabe 2221). Another copy, made in Cairo in 1553, is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Mss. Pococke 375). It was acquired in 1692. The most complete manuscript, which includes the world map and all seventy sectional maps, is kept in Istanbul."The compilation of Edrisi marks an era in the history of science. Not only is its historical information most interesting and valuable, but its descriptions of many parts of the earth are still authoritative. For three centuries geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes which form the Nile, as delineated in his work, does not differ greatly from that established by Baker and Stanley more than seven hundred years afterwards, and their number is the same. The mechanical genius of the author was not inferior to his erudition. The celestial and terrestrial planisphere of silver which he constructed for his royal patron was nearly six feet in diameter, and weighed four hundred and fifty pounds; upon the one side the zodiac and the constellations, upon the other-divided for convenience into segments-the bodies of land and water, with the respective situations of the various countries, were engraved."
- Houben, 2002, pp. 102-104.
- Harley & Woodward, 1992, pp. 156-161.
- S. P. Scott (1904), History of the Moorish Empire, pp. 461-2
- Bacharach, 2006, p. 140.
- The Book of Roger, BBC Online.
- Bacharach, Jere L. (2006). Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-96690-0
- Harley, John Brian and Woodward, David (1992). The History of Cartography, Volume 2. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-226-31635-2
- Houben, Hubert (2002). Roger II of Sicily: A Ruler Between East and West. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-65573-6
- The World Maps of al-Idrisi
- Online exhibition, Bibliothèque nationale de France (French)
- View Online at the BNF (653 pages).
I mention this in particular because the small ovoid island off
of EastAsia seems to correspond to the normal midieval maps of "Chipangu", Japan.
Below is a standard modern map for comparison
On the other hand, the Asiatic section of the Idrisi map seems to be following a different type of projection which is projecting the round globe onto a flat circular map, and this seems to have been the intention of the Piri Re'is map also.