Cultural Exchange: Al-Idrisi’s World Map (1154)

Wikimedia Commons

Al-Sharif al-Idrisi, a Muslim from Al-Andalus, traveled to Sicily to work for the Norman King Roger II, producing an Arabic-language geography guide that drew on Jewish, Greek, Christian, and Islamic traditions and contained two world maps: the small, circular one above, and 70 regional maps that could be stitched together. Unlike east-oriented Christian world maps at the time, al-Idrisi’s map puts south at top in the tradition of Muslim mapmakers, who considered Mecca due south (Africa is the crescent-shaped landmass at top, and the Arabian Peninsula is in the center). Unlike Ptolemy, al-Idrisi depicted a circumnavigable Africa—blue sea surrounds the globe. Ultimately, the map is concerned with representing physical geography and blending traditions—not mathematics or religion. “There are no monsters on his maps,” Brotton says.

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