Amazing Maps: the Piri Reis World Map

Dated "Islamic year 919" ("our" 1513), the parchment map of the Turkish admiral Piri Reis representing the Atlantic Ocean, the western coasts of Europe and Africa and the eastern side of America, would be the surviving part (about a third or perhaps half) of a larger document depicting the whole known world, and is kept in the Topkapı Palace Library in Istanbul, where it was found in 1929.

Amazing Maps:The Piri Reis Map-Statue_of_Piri_reis.jpg

According to its author, the map was created in Gallipoli on the basis of information obtained from twenty nautical maps and eight previous globes to be offered to the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1517 and it is not excluded that after 1519 it was reworked, although in small way.
For its drafting, Pīrī Reʾīs used four Portuguese portolans and the so-called "Columbus map" (the one used by the great navigator), which had been looted after the capture of seven Spanish ships off Valencia.
In the legible note in the center, Piri Reis tells many details about the explorations of Columbus, defined as a "great astronomer" and in particular he states that "the coasts and coasts appearing on this map are taken from the Columbus map".
In one of his sentences, reported in the margin of the sheet and written in Ottoman Turkish language, he speaks of the American continent: «İşbu kenarlara Antilya kıyıları derler. Arap tarihinin sekiz yüz doksan altı yılında bulunmuştur. Amma şöyle rivayet ederler kim Cinevizden bir kâfir adına Qolōnbō derler imiş, bu yerleri ol bulmuştur.»
«These coasts are called Antilya coast. They were discovered in the year 896 of the Arab era. But it is said that an infidel from Genoa named Colombo discovered these places. "
These lines would seem to mark the end of the historiographical controversies on the origin of the navigator, proving his Genoese identity, given that - apart from the explicit reference to the citizens of Genoa, "Cinevizden" - the Turkish word used several times in the map is Qolōnbō, and not Qolōn, as it would have happened if the name of the "infidel" navigator had been Colón, according to the Castilian spelling and diction.

Amazing Maps: the Piri Reis World Map-Christopher_Columbus_Illustration_from_Grand_Voyages_by_Theodor_de_Bry

The map would draw some ideas from other contemporary maps, including those by Martin Waldseemüller, and some Portuguese documents that have not reached us, but of which some descriptions have survived.
In particular, the admiral may have references to the maps made in the expedition of the Portuguese captain Pedro Alvarez Cabral, who in 1500 reached South America starting from Guinea; or on those built between 1501 and 1504 by Amerigo Vespucci, when, in the service of the Portuguese captain Gonzalo Coelho, he descended the South American coasts a lot, arriving in Patagonia.
After the discovery, the numerous notes on the map were translated and transcribed in full into modern Turkish, German, French, English and Italian in 1935 by Bay Hasan Fehmi and published by Yusuf Akcura in the essay "Piri Reis Haritasi". The Charter was reproduced again in 1966, also following the in-depth study of Ayşe Afetinan who, in 1954, spoke of the work in The oldest map of America.

Pseudo-archaeological interpretations

The fragment of the world map of Piri Reìs was used in various pseudo-archaeological publications and counted among the OOPArts to argue that the knowledge of world geography shown in the map, and, in particular, that of the coasts of America, would have been more thorough than that which is generally attributed to the epoch even before Columbus' discovery of the Americas.

Amazing Maps: the Piri Reis World Map-Possible_interpretation_of_the_Piri_Reis_map

Also other famous maps such as those of Orontius Finaeus of 1531 and Philippe Buache of 1739, would contain the precise representation of Antarctica before the glaciation: supporters of these theories believe that the maps were drawn from very ancient representations, perhaps dating back to the mythical Atlantis, or were drawn starting from visions possible only from above, therefore by extraterrestrial planes or spaceships because the scientific knowledge of the time could not have allowed a similar correspondence with reality. According to the alternative interpretations of some writers such as Charles Hapgood, Erich von Däniken, Flavio Barbiero and Graham Hancock, some coastline would instead represent Antarctica with a level of detail difficult to reach in the 16th century although other historians argue that there is no correlation between the shape of the current (nor past) Antarctic continent with what is indicated on the map.
Both Hapgood and Hancock affirm that the representation of the Antarctic continent in these maps would be very precise and, by indicating rivers, lakes and mountains, would suggest that the drafting of that ancient cartographic model would have taken place 15,000 years ago. They also speculate that this detection would have been possible only using a satellite suspended at very high altitude above Egypt.

Amazing Maps: the Piri Reis World Map-Piri_Reis_map_interpretation2

Traditional Academic Interpretation

According to some historians and scholars it is practically impossible to consider Medieval and Renaissance maps as geographically accurate documents: often they were based on symbolic systems of representation, they placed the position of North and South, placed Jerusalem at the center of the world.
Furthermore, in many cases they did not derive from direct observations but from other maps more or less adapted to the claims of nations such as Spain and Portugal, in contrast to each other for the dominion over recently discovered lands and emphasized the greatness of a nation at the expense of others less important with very unrealistic dimensions.
Until the first decade of the sixteenth century it was thought that those new lands, touched first by Columbus and then by Vespucci, were part of Asia and not of a new continent, so certain maps united parts of the known Far East with parts of the new lands recently explored and "unknown lands" were often added to these in the south. In the same geographical maps, other mythical places are often represented, such as the "Kingdom of Presbyter Iohannes", Hy Brazil, the Garden Of Eden, the Tower of Babel or the Island of San Brandano.

Amazing Maps: the Piri Reis World Map-Piri_Reis_World_Map_in_a_Double_Hemisphere

In the Piri Reis map the only fairly detailed part of South America is the coast of present-day Brazil, but the Amazon River is drawn in two different positions.
Other areas, on the other hand, appear to be drawn in a very coarse way and with evident errors of proportions and orientation.
In the part of the map relating to the Caribbean, for example, that part of the American continent is drawn in an incongruous way, with a large island arranged along the north-south axis, which is difficult to identify with Cuba even by rotating the map 90 degrees counterclockwise.
In reality, what we see in the Piri Reis map is nothing more than the representation of the east coast of Asia as it was imagined and drawn in the 15th century maps probably used by Columbus. The large island outlined in red is identifiable with Japan (Cipango) as depicted in Martin Behaim's 1492 world map.
In fact, at that time some scholars believed that the Earth was much smaller than it actually is and Asia was imagined beyond the Atlantic Ocean, not very far from the Azores islands and the legendary island of San Brandano (which appears also in the map of Reis although it never existed except in the stories about the lives of the saints).
The only part of America that Piri Reis probably copied from a fairly accurate map is the coast of present-day Brazil, but if we overlap the two coastlines we can easily realize that the correspondence is only apparent.

The lower end of the Piri Reis map, which is identified by supporters of alternative theories with Antarctica and in which many say that it is possible to recognize the Land of Queen Maud and other territories of that continent that would not have been explored for centuries afterwards, it would not find any real cartographic evidence nor would it ever be verified.
Furthermore, if the one pictured below were Antarctica, it would be attached to Brazil instead of being more than 4000 km to the south and the 2000 km of coastline from Brazil to Tierra del Fuego would have vanished into thin air.
It is much more probable that only the extremity of the South American continent is represented there, in the approximate ways that the scarce knowledge of the time allowed.

However, some details such as the Gulf of San Matias and the peninsula of Valdes can be recognized in the Piri Reis map, although deformed, and the end could be Tierra del Fuego.
Looking at the lower right end which should represent Antarctica, we see the drawing of a snake, and in the note of Piri Reis we read: "This land is uninhabited. Everything is in ruins and it is said that large snakes have been found. For this reason the Portuguese infidels have not landed in these lands which are said to be very hot ", a description that would hardly fit Antarctica.


“The Piri Reis map of 1513 features the western shores of Africa and the eastern shores of North and South America and is also controversially claimed to depict Ice Age Antarctica--as an extension of the southern tip of South America.
The same map depicts a large island lying east of the southeast coast of what is now the United States. Also clearly depicted running along the spine of this island is a 'road' of huge megaliths. In this exact spot during the lowered sea levels of the Ice Age a large island was indeed located until approximately 12,400 years ago.
A remnant survives today in the form of the islands of Andros and Bimini. Underwater off Bimini I have scuba-dived on a road of great megaliths exactly like those depicted above water on the Piri Reis map.
Again, the implication, regardless of the separate controversy of whether the so-called Bimini Road is a man-made or natural feature, is that the region must have been explored and mapped before the great floods at the end of the Ice Age caused the sea level to rise and submerged the megaliths.”

― Graham Hancock, America Before: The Key to Earth's Lost Civilization


Resources related to Amazing Maps: the Piri Reis World Map

Cover image by Piri Reis, Public domain

Article image by Karamanli86

Articleimage2 by Rawpixel

Article image3 by TMg Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Article image 4 by TMg, based on an image by Segantini


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