The Piri Reis Map

The Piri Reis map dated 1513 and it is the first surviving map that shows the Americas. The Piri Reis map shows the western coast of Africa, the eastern coast of South America, and the northern coast of Antarctica. The northern coastline of Antarctica is perfectly detailed. The most puzzling however is not so much how Piri Reis managed to draw such an accurate map of the Antarctic region 300 years before it was discovered, but that the map shows the coastline under the ice.

The Piri Reis map was made by a Turkish Admiral Piri Ibn Haji Mehmed. Reis means admiral. His passion was cartography. His high rank within the Turkish navy allowed him to have a privileged access to the Imperial Library of Constantinople.

The map became lost and was only rediscovered in 1929 by a group of historians working in the harem section of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. There is a lot of questions about this map because of it's impressive details. Some even believe that it is so perfect that it could only have been made from very high altitude photographs.

Piri Reis Map
Piri Reis' Map

The Piri Reis map is not made like modern maps with horizontal and vertical grid for location purposes but had a series of circles with lines radiating from them. Their purpose was to guide navigators from port to port and not for the modern idea of find position. This makes it more difficult to compare features from the Piri Reis map with modern maps.

Piri Reis
Piri Reis


Some unusual findings about the map:

  • The map shows that the makers knew the accurate circumference of the Earth.

  • The coastline and island that are shown in Antarctica must have been navigated at some period prior to 4,000 B.C. when these areas were free of ice from the last Ice Age.

  • The map is thought to be one of the earliest "world maps" to show the Americas. Early scholars suggested that it showed accurate latitudes of the South American and African coastlines - only 21 years after the voyages of Columbus! Writing in Piri Re'is own hand described how he had made the map from a collection of ancient maps, supplemented by charts that were drawn by Columbus himself. This suggests that these ancient maps were available to Columbus and could have been the basis of his expedition.

  • The "center" of the source map projected from coordinates in what is now Alexandria - the center of culture and home of the world's oldest and largest library until its destruction by Christian invaders.

  • Piri Reis' own commentary indicates that some of his source maps were from the time of Alexander the Great (332 B.C.).

The Piri Reis map also has a number of notes written on it. These notes cover everything from Columbus discovering the New World to sea monsters. Some interesting notes:

  • "This country is inhabited. The entire population goes naked."

  • "This region is known as the vilayet of Antilia. It is on the side where the sun sets. They say that there are four kinds of parrots, white, red, green and black. The people eat the flesh of parrots and their headdress is made entirely of parrots' feathers. There is a stone here. It resembles black touchstone. The people use it instead of the ax."

  • "This sea is called the Western Sea, but the Frank sailors call it the Mare d'Espagna. Which means the Sea of Spain. Up to now it was known by these names, but Colombo, who opened up this sea and made these islands known, and also the Portuguese, infidels who have opened up the region of Hind have agreed together to give this sea a new name. They have given it the name of Ovo Sano [Oceano] that is to say, sound egg. Before this it was thought that the sea had no end or limit, that at its other end was darkness. Now they have seen that this sea is girded by a coast, because it is like a lake, they have called it Ovo Sano."

  • "In this spot there are oxen with one horn, and also monsters in this shape."

The Piri Reis map is in Topkapi Palace and is not usually on display. This map has great value to Turkey and to the world.

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