AUTHOR: Piri Re'is
DESCRIPTION: During a naval campaign against Venice in
1501, a Turkish fleet captured a Spanish ship in the western
Mediterranean. One of the prisoners taken had earlier made three
voyages to the West Indies with Columbus and carried with him a
set of Columbus's American charts. In this fortuitous manner
Kemal Re'is, the famous Turkish admiral, acquired maps of great
importance showing a newly discovered part of the world.
Piri Re'is, nephew of Kemal, was born in
Gallipoli on the shore of the Dardanelles in 1470. Piri also became
an admiral and is remembered as a scholar of navigational science
and an accomplished linguist. He produced charts, an important book
on navigation, and a superb map of the world, which employed the
Columbus maps taken by his uncle's sailors. Although fragmentary,
this work and the Zorzi sketches (Slide #307) are the only world
maps with a direct Columbus delineation for part of America.
The map found its way to Suleiman the Magnificent's Topkapi
Palace where it remained undetected for four centuries. In 1929
this remaining fragment was discovered when the palace was being
converted to a national museum. Delineated in nine colors, the map
shows the Atlantic Ocean and adjoining parts of South and Central
America, the islands of the West Indies, and parts of southwestern
Europe and West Africa.
Many lengthy notes in Turkish appear on
the map, including geographical descriptions and detailed
information on the sources of the delineation. There are references
to the voyage of St. Brendan, the legendary Irish monk who in the
sixth century supposedly discovered an island in the North Atlantic
called the "Promised Land of the Saints."
Long sought by sailors, St. Brendan's
island was widely believed to exist in Columbus's time and appeared
in some form and location on most early European maps. According to
Piri Re'is himself, the map was based upon eight Ptolemy maps, an
Arabic map of India, four new Portuguese sea maps of Sind, Hind and
China, and the map of America drawn by Columbus.
A long passage describes Columbus's first voyage experiences, from
initial difficulties in obtaining sponsorship to encounters with the
natives. Piri Re'is specifically mentions his use of the West Indies
charts drawn by Columbus. He also refers to information from
Portuguese and Arabic sources that proved important in developing
his delineation of Africa and Asia.
The style of the map is European although the lengthy commentary is
written in Turkish. Piri comments that no one in Turkey had ever
seen such a map. Presumably he referred to both the novelty of its
delineation and the profuse depictions of people and animals that
violated the customary lslamic prohibition against portraying living
objects in artworks. The map was not only unusual in Turkey, but few
people in any country, including Spain and Portugal, had access to a
chart of the world incorporating the new discoveries.
The coastline of northeastern South America indicates that
information came from Ojeda, Vespucci, or one of their companions.
The West Indies are poorly drawn and difficult to recognize. While
Guadaloupe and the islands immediately adjacent in the Lesser
Antilles are remarkably accurate; the island of Hispaniola [Haiti]
has quite a different form here from other contemporary maps, it is
more reminiscent of the contemporary shape of the East Asian island,
then called Cipangu [Japan]. For these Piri Re'is no doubt had a
Columbus drawing. This unusual chart with its complicated and
fascinating history includes the only surviving delineation by
Columbus of his discoveries.
The Pri Re'is map shows some legendary cephalopods, dog-headed
figures, etc. taken from ancient and medieval sources. However, it
also displays a large number of real-life mammals for the first
time, in South America, together with some snakes and the symbolic
parrots. The parrots are green with red beaks and long tails,
sitting on all of the Caribbean islands and described as being of
four kinds: white, red, green and black.
There are monkeys with long tails, a
one- horned bovid, a two-horned spotted ungulate with a tusk, a
six-horned animal, which might possibly be one of the South American
hollow toothed deer with much branched antlers, and an animal that
might well represent a llama were it not for its horns. A single
carnivore, looking agile with its tail flourishing, resembles the
very common South American martens or tayras (mustelids) but could,
perhaps according to Wilma George, represent the larger, more
frightening and, therefore, more written about jaguar.
The Piri Re'is map of 1513 came to light in the old imperial palace
at Istanbul in 1931. The Illustrated London News published a
reproduction of it on 25th February 1932, which prompted a detailed
letter by a prominent Turkish historian. The magazine published this
letter by Yusuf Akura Bey, National Deputy and President of the
Turkish Historical Society on 23rd July 1932, of which the following
is an excerpt:
The map in question is drawn on a gazelle skin by Piri Reis who had
made a name for himself among the Western and Eastern Scholars
through his detailed geographical book on the Mediterranean Sea
entitled Bahriye ["On the Sea"] and which testifies to his capacity
and knowledge in his profession. Piri Reis is the son of the brother
of the famous Kemal Reis who was the Turkish admiral in the
Mediterranean Sea at the last quarter of the fifteenth century.
History records Piri Reis Bey's last
official post as admiral of the Fleets in the Red Sea and the Indian
Ocean. Piri Reis wrote and completed the above-mentioned map in the
city of Gelibolu (Gallipoli) in the year 1513, and four years after
this date, i.e., in the year 1517, he presented personally to Selim
I, the conqueror of Egypt, during the presence of the latter there.
As the same thing will be noticed in the maps of ancient and
mediaeval times, the map of Piri Reis contain [sic] important
marginal notes regarding the history and the geographical conditions
of some of the coasts and islands. All these marginal notes with
hundreds of lines of explanation were written in Turkish.
Three lines only, which from the title
and head lines of the map, were written in Arabic; and this is done
to comply with the usual traditional way which is noticed on all the
Ottoman Turkish monuments up [to] the very latest centuries. These
three lines in Arabic testify that the author is the nephew of Kemal
Reis, and that the work [was] written and compiled of [sic] Gelibolu
in the year 1513.
The map in our possession is a fragment and it was out of from [sic]
a world chart on large scale. When the photographic copy of the map
is carefully examined, it will be noticed that the lines of the
marginal noted [sic] on the eastern edges have been cut half away.
In one of these marginal notes the author states in detail the maps
he had seen and studied in preparing his map. In the marginal note
describing the Antilles Islands, he states that he has used
Christopher Columbus' chart for the coasts and islands. He sets
forth the narratives of the voyages made, by a Spaniard a slave in
the hands of Kemal Reis, Pin Reis' uncle, who under
Columbus made three voyages to America.
He also states, in his marginal notes
regarding the South American coast that he saw the charts of four
Portuguese discoverers. That he has made use of Christopher
Columbus' chart is made clear in the following lines of his:
"In order that these islands and
their coasts might be known Columbus gave them these names and
set it down on his chart. The coasts (the names of the coasts)
and the islands are taken from the chart of Columbus".
The work essentially was a world map.
Therefore Piri Reis had made a study of some of the charts which
represented the world, and according to his personal statement, he
has studied and examined the maps prepared at the time of Alexander
(the Great), the 'Mappa Mundis' and the eight maps in fragments
prepared by the Muslims.
Piri Reis himself plainly explains, in one of the marginal notes in
his map, how his map was prepared:
"This section explains the way the
map was prepared. Such a map is not owned by anybody at this
time, I, personally, drawn [sic] and prepared this map. In
preparing this map, I made use of about twenty old charts and
eight Mappa Mundis, i.e. of the charts called Jaferiye by the
Arabs and prepared at the time of Alexander the Great and in
which the whole inhabited world was shown; of the chart of [the]
West Indies; and of the new maps made by four Portugueses [sic]
containing the Indian and Chinese countries geometrically
represented on them. I also studied the chart that Christopher
Columbus drew for the West.
Putting all these material [sic]
together in a common scale I produced the present map. My map is
as correct and dependable for the seven seas as are the charts
that represent the seas of our countries".
Piri Reis, in a special chapter in his
book Bahriye mentions the fact that in drawing his map he has taken
note of the cartographical traditions considered international at
that time. The cities and citadels are indicated in red lines, the
deserted places in black lines, the rugged and rocky places in black
dots, the shores and sandy places in red dots and the hidden rocks
There are in fact 207 charts drawn by Piri Re'is in his Bahnye.
The State Department, through their ambassador in Ankara, procured
reproductions of the Piri Re'is map for the Library of Congress. The
Library of Congress was particularly anxious also to obtain a copy
of Columbus' maps upon which Piri Re'is claimed in part to have
based his own map. At that time, Columbus was popularly believed to
have "discovered" America. It was not widelv recognized fifty years
ago that Columbus died in the belief that he had discovered Japan.
Nor was it known in the 1930's that other maritime explorers from
Europe had sailed the Atlantic centuries before Columbus.
The Legends on
the Piri Re'is Map