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x0x The Nautical Charts of Piri Reis

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  • Turkish Radio San Francisco
    x0x The Nautical Charts of Piri Reis Ottoman Turkish mapmaking really begins with Piri Reis, and this was no faltering start as might be expected, but a
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 19, 2000
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      x0x The Nautical Charts of Piri Reis

      Ottoman Turkish mapmaking really begins with Piri Reis, and this was
      no faltering start as might be expected, but a spectacular debut. His
      "Kitab-i Bahriye" (Book of Navigation) is a portolan or manual of maps
      showing every cove, harbor and island in the Mediterranean in
      unprecedented detail. Piri Reis also drew two maps of outstanding
      importance in the history of mapmaking, one of the world and another
      of North America, the accuracy and projection system of which were
      extraordinary for their time.

      As well as cartographer and navigator, Piri Reis was a commander who
      left his mark on Ottoman naval history. He was born sometime between
      1465 and 1470 in Gelibolu (Gallipoli), a town on the strait linking
      the Marmara Sea to the Aegean where the inhabitants had been seafarers
      for many generations. He owed his own place in Ottoman nautical
      history to his uncle Kemal Reis, a famous Turkish corsair and admiral
      who was feared throughout the Mediterranean during the last quarter of
      the 15th century.

      Until 1492, Piri Reis served with Kemal Reis on his pirating
      expeditions along the coast of Spain in the western Mediterranean. At
      the request of Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512), Piri Reis and Kemal Reis
      abandoned piracy to enter the Ottoman naval service and as naval
      commanders they took part in the sea battles of Lepanto, Methoni,
      Koroni, Navarino, Mitylene and Rhodes.

      When Kemal Reis died in 1510, Piri Reis returned to Gelibolu, where he
      began work on his "Book of Navigation." In 1517 he returned to sea to
      serve as admiral in the Egyptian campaign of Selim I, and it was then
      that be presented the world map which he had completed in 1513 to the
      sultan. During this period he also accompanied this cousin Muhidden
      Reis, one of Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa's captains, on campaigns in the
      Mediterranean. He subsequently spent several years in Gelibolu working
      on the maps and text for his "Book of Navigation." He completed this
      work in 1526 and presented it to Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. When
      he finished his map of North America in 1528 he presented it to the
      same sultan.

      Piri Reis's final period of active service with
      the Ottoman Navy was as commander of Egypt, an episode which ended in
      tragedy. After his second campaign against the Portuguese in 1552, he
      left his fleet in Basra for repairs and sailed with three ships filled
      with spoils of war to Egypt. Here he was imprisoned and unjustly
      condemned to death for failure to perform his duty by Governor of
      Egypt Mehmet Pasa, incited by Kubat Pasa, governor of Basra, whose
      enmity Piri Reis had aroused by refusing to cede a share of the
      spoils. He was over 80 years old when he died, and his estate was
      seized by the authorities.

      A typical nautical chart

      Piri Reis's world map was discovered at Topkapi Palace in 1929 by
      Halil Edhem Eldem, director of National Museums. The map was examined
      by the German orientalist, Professor Paul Kable, who was engaged in
      research in Istanbul at the time, and Kable reported on the map to the
      80th Congress of Oriental Studies in Leiden in 1931. Meanwhile, the
      map was taken to Ankara, where it was examined by historians, and
      Ataturk ordered a facsimile reproduction of the map to be printed. The
      map is drawn on camel skin, with illustrations in nine different
      colors. It is 86 centimeters long, 61 centimeters wide at the upper
      edge and 41 centimeters wide at the lower edge. Close examination
      shows that the right-band section of the map has been torn away,
      although the discrepancy in width between the upper and lower edges is
      due to the natural shape of the skin. The surviving half of the map
      shows the east and west coasts of the Atlantic Ocean. The coastlines
      of North and South America, the Antilles, northwest Africa, Spain and
      France correspond closely to modern maps.

      The map is a typical nautical chart, with
      compass roses and lines showing direction in place of lines of
      latitude and longitude. It is decorated with mythical and realistic
      pictures, including a number of ships. As well as place names, the
      chart is annotated with dates of discovery, legends about the places
      shown and explanations of how the map was compiled. The beautifully
      executed decoration confirms that the map was drawn as a gift for the
      Ottoman sultan. There are five compass roses on the map, three small
      and two large.

      The lines of writing on the northwest section of South America read:
      "The humble Piri, son of Haci Mehmed, and renowned as the nephew of
      Kemal Reis, composed this map in the town of Gallipoli in the holy
      month of Muharrem 919 (1513). May God absolve them both."

      Piri Reis reveals the sources he used for his map with the honesty of
      a scholar as we see in the notes over South America: "This section
      states the way in which this map was drawn. I have used twenty maps
      and mappae mundi dating from the time of Alexander the Great showing
      the lands inhabited by men. The Arab people refer to those maps as
      caferiye. As well as eight caferiye of that kind, I have made use of
      one Arabic map of India and four modern Portuguese maps, some of which
      delineate the lands of Sind, India and China according to geometrical
      methods, and one map drawn by Columbus in the western lands. By
      reducing all these maps to one scale this form was arrived at. So that
      the present map is as correct and reliable for the seven seas as the
      map of our countries is considered correct and reliable by seamen."

      Above this is an account of the discovery of the American continent,
      ending with a further acknowledgement of the fact that his map was
      based on that of Christopher Columbus: "Whatever shores and islands
      are shown on the map in question have been taken from the map of
      Christopher Columbus."

      Perfection of Piri Reis's projection

      This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the map, since although
      Christopher Columbus is known to have made maps of the coasts during
      his four voyages to America between 1492 and 1504, none of them have
      survived. They live on only in the map drawn by Piri Reis.

      The world map drawn by Juan de la Cosa, who accompanied Columbus as
      guide on his second voyage, dated 1500, that of Contari dated 1506 and
      of Martin Waldseemuller dated 1507 are the earliest maps of America,
      and Waldseemuller's is the first to show the American continent as
      separate from Asia. However, Piri Reis's map is more accurate than any
      of these.

      The perfection of Piri Reis's projection is
      the map's most outstanding feature. A study by Professor C. Hapgood in
      1965 has demonstrated an extraordinary correlation between Piri Reis's
      map and a map based on aerial photographs taking Cairo as the central
      point. Erich Von Daniken, in his book "Chariots of the Gods," makes
      the sensational claim that the map must have been drawn from
      photographs taken from spacecraft. The depiction of mountains in
      Antarctica poses a particular enigma since the mountains are invisible
      under layers of ice, and their existence only became apparent after
      scientists conducted experiments using soundwaves in 1951. In short,
      the map of Piri Reis is the most accurate of all those made in the
      wake of Columbus's discovery of America and the closest to modern
      maps.

      Missing map

      During the unsuccessful search for the missing section of Piri Reis's
      world map Director of Topkapi Palace Museum Tahsin Oz came across a
      second map measuring 69 by 70 centimeters. Drawn on gazelle skin in
      eight colors, this is a typical nautical chart and similar in style to
      the first, although more meticulously executed. Again this is only a
      fragment of the original map. The ornately decorated border remains,
      along the north and west edges, and the annotation along the other
      edges is broken off where the other sections have been removed. The
      remaining section shows the northern Atlantic and the coasts of North
      and Central America and bears four large ornate and two smaller
      compass roses. The two scales are in miles and below them is an
      explanatory note to the effect that each division represents 10 miles.
      Beneath the vertical scale are four lines telling us the date of the
      map: "The humble Piri Reis, son of Haci Mehmed and nephew of the late
      Captain Gazi Kemal of Gelibolu, completed this in the year 935 (1528).
      This is his work." This signature inscription is in Arabic, but all
      the other annotations on the map are in Turkish.

      It has been claimed that this is a world map like the first but this
      cannot be the case, since the scale is too large.

      Almost certainly the missing section extended to Antarctica in the
      south and to Istanbul in the east. It appears that Piri Reis wished to
      show the Ottoman capital in relation to the New World on a large-scale
      map. Another objective was perhaps to present Sultan Suleyman with a
      map updated in the light of new discoveries. Alternatively it may have
      been that the Ottoman palace commissioned him to draw this map. The
      fact that some of the imaginary islands which appear on the first map
      are not shown here, that the coast of America is more accurately
      delineated and that the mythical illustrations and legends included on
      the first map are now absent demonstrate that over the intervening 15
      years Piri Reis had kept up with the findings of explorers. The Tropic
      of Cancer is drawn (with a very small degree of error), so we may
      deduce that the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn were shown on the
      missing sections. He also avoids the practice on portolan charts of
      exaggerating the scale of harbors so as to provide additional detail
      for sailors. Evidently he was concerned to produce a map which was
      more accurate and up to date than the earlier one.

      Piri Reis's "Book of Navigation" is a subject of equal fascination but
      one of such broad scope that it must he reserved for a future article.

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