Ancient Cartography: Background information when reading The Map of Salt and Stars

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The Map of Salt and Stars

by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar X
The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2019, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Renner
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Ancient Cartography

This article relates to The Map of Salt and Stars

Print Review

Imago MundiMapmaking has been a vital part of human curiosity for millennia. The oldest known world map is the Babylonian Map of the World, also known as the Imago Mundi, which dates back to the 5th century BCE. This early map is not alone. Archaeologists have found many map-like representations in caves, some of which even show images of star patterns ancient people saw in the night sky. And there is the possibility of a much older extant map in the form of a wall painting found in 1961 in Turkey which is believed to be more than 8,000 years old and is generally considered to be either the earliest landscape painting or the earliest known map.

Maps have come a long way since then as humanity has explored the world, discovered new media for art and pioneered technology for digital cartography. While maps featuring satellite images have now become commonplace, cartographers and explorers once took the helm in cartography – literally.

Muhammad Al-IdrisiDuring the Middle Ages, Muslim scholars, building on the work of their forbearers like the Roman mathematician Ptolemy, made great leaps forward in cartography. Scholar-adventurers like Ibn Batutta and Muhammad al-Idrisi combined the study of astronomy and geometry with the information they found with ships' navigators in order to create the most accurate maps the world had seen up until that point. Among their major contributions, the Muslim scholars brought the concept of meridians and parallels into broader use. This application of lines on maps we all take for granted helped build the modern science of cartography as we know it.

Al-Idrisi, a central character in Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar's The Map of Salt and Stars was born in the year 1100 in Ceuta, Spain, in a time when Spain was under Moorish rule. He soon ventured out into the world, visiting nearby countries such as Portugal and North Africa, as well as far flung ones like Anatolia and Hungary. During much of al-Idrisi's life, "Al-Andalus," the name of Moorish Spain, was turbulent and war-torn and so he and many of his contemporaries fled to Sicily. Being at the heart of the Mediterranean positioned Sicily as the ideal base for a mapmaker. Merchants, sailors and explorers of many nations passed through, sharing knowledge of their travels.

Tabula RogerianaIn 1138, King Roger II of Sicily commissioned al-Idrisi to compose the most accurate map of the ancient world. The Tabula Rogeriana is the end result of al-Idrisi's 18 years of work at the Sicilian court. The map is inscribed in Arabic and Latin and includes all of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The version of the map given to King Roger II was engraved on a massive 300 pound disk of silver. Al-Idrisi also wrote a book with the map which details and comments on its illustrations, including the climates and cultures of the illustrated regions. The book's Arabic name نزهة المشتاق في اختراق الآفاق‎, literally translates to "the book of pleasant journeys into faraway lands."

Imago Mundi courtesy of www.geolounge.com
Al-Idrisi
Tabula Rogeriana

Article by Rebecca Renner

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Map of Salt and Stars. It originally ran in June 2018 and has been updated for the March 2019 paperback edition.

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