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Cartographica Helvetica


Gregory C. McIntosh:

Christopher Columbus and the Pīrī Reʿīs map of 1513

Cartographica Helvetica 11 (1995) 36–42


No maps made by, or under the supervision of, Christopher Columbus have directly survived the passage of time. As geographical knowledge increased, older and less accurate maps were discarded, even maps from the hand of Columbus, their historical value not being recognized. The Pīrī Reʿīs map of 1513, however, is the only map known to preserve Columbus's geographical and cartographical ideas. An analysis shows that the Bahamas, Cuba, and Hispaniola are copied from the source map by Columbus.

Hispaniola is identified by the placenames upon it and by its unusual orientation, which conforms to Columbus's ideas about Hispaniola. Pīrī Reʿīs depicted Cuba as mainland on his map. This is in accordance with the opinion of Columbus that Cuba was a wedge-shaped Asian mainland. Much of what appears to be a confused jumble of delineations in the northwest section of the Pīrī Reʿīs map is shown to conform to Columbus's geographival conceptions and Columbian nomenclature.

There are diagnostic features of the Pīrī Reʿīs map, many of them unique to this map, that support the statements by Pīrī Reʿīs that he copied a map by Columbus. The map, however, displays the earliest, most primitive and rudimentary cartography of Cuba, Hispaniola, and the Bahamas islands, more primitive than even the celebrated Juan de la Cosa map (1500), a primitiveness which indicates that the earliest of all cartographic records of the discoveries in the New World – a map made by, or under the supervision of, Christopher Columbus about 1495 or 1496 – survives in the Pīrī Reʿīs map of 1513.

Bibliographic note

  • Article translated from American English by Hans-Uli Feldmann, Murten.
  • Edited version of: Christopher Columbus and the Piri Re'is Map of 1513. In: The American Neptune 53, 4 (1993) pp. 280–294.

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