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DESCRIPTION: This 'atlas' was the work of a family of Catalonian Jews who worked in Majorca at the end of the 14th century and was commissioned by Charles V of France at a time when the reputation of the Catalan chart makers was at its peak. The title of the Atlas shows clearly the spirit in which it was executed and its content: Mappamundi, that is to say, image of the world and of the regions which are on the earth and of the various kinds of peoples which inhabit it. Today the original Catalan Atlas can be found in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, and has now assumed the form of seven loose wooden panels of which five inside ones bear one half of a sheet of the Atlas on each side, while the two outer ones consist of one side that bears a half sheet of the Atlas and one half of the binding on the other side.a€?The first of the two preliminary sheets deals with the days of the month from the first to the thirtieth. The Catalan Atlas is actually a world map built up around a portolan chart, thus combining aspects of the nautical chart by employing loxodromes and coastal detail with the medieval mappaemundi exemplified by its legends and illustrations.
We know in unusual detail the circumstances in which the Catalan Atlas of 1375 (the date of the calendar which accompanies it) was produced and the career of the cartographer who compiled it. The patrons of Cresques, King Peter III of Aragon and his son, in addition to their scientific interests, were keenly interested in reports of Eastern lands, in relation to their forward economic policy, and were at special pains to secure manuscript copies of Marco Polo's Description of the World, the travels of Odoric of Pordenone Description of Eastern Regions and, what may surprise the modern reader, the Voiage of Sir John Mandeville.
In the interior the position, extent, chief divisions, towns and rivers of China and the Mongol Empire are approximately represented.
On the southern portion of the Cathay coast, the general uniformity of the coast is broken by three bays, and it is significant that these are associated with three great ports, Zayton [near Changchow], Cansay [Hangchow, better known in medieval records as Quinsay ] and Cincolam [Canton]. Quite a number of harbors are indicated on the eastern coast of India, a few of them still identifiable, while a sailing junk testifies to trading activity, especially with the island of Iana (?), which is here associated with the legendary isle of the Amazons (regio femarum [sic]) and symbolized by its queen. In mainland India, King Stephen has been represented: the text beside him indicates that this Christian ruler is a€?looking towards the town of Butifilis,a€? Marco Polo's kingdom of Mutifilis. The people of Gog and Magog following their monarch, bearing banners with the emblem of the devil, detail of the map of Asia.
Sources other than those embodied in Polo have also been used for the portion of the Indian Ocean included in the map. If the map is stripped of its legends and drawings of the older tradition, it is apparent that the main interest of the compiler is concentrated in a central strip across Asia. In the west is the Organci [Oxus] river shown, as on most contemporary maps, flowing into the Caspian, and alongside it the early stages of the traditionally used overland route, from Urganj [the medieval Khiva] through Bokhara and Samarcand to the sources of the river in the mountains of Amol, on the eastern limits of Persia. This description, with several omissions, was in outline the route followed by Maffeo and Nicolo Polo (Marco Polo's father and uncle) on their journey to the Great Khan's court. Scarcely less valuable, and certainly of special interest for the student of geographical theory, are the Catalan speculations concerning the unexplored territories of the earth. Hardly any place on the west coast of Africa is identified only one name, perhaps a mythical spot, is found south of Cape Bojador in the former Spanish Sahara, but we are told that Africa, land of ivory, starts at this point and that by traveling due south one reaches Ethiopia. East of the Sultan of Mali appears the King of Organa, in turban and blue dress, holding an oriental sword and a shield. In northeast Africa, a knowledge of the Nile valley as far south as Dongala, where there was a Catholic mission early in the 14th century, is apparent. On one matter, however, the mapmaker Cresques could hardly refrain from speculating, for the following reason: land exploration had, for a long time now, outrun oceanic discovery, and so, concerning Africa, much more was known of the Sudan by the end of the 14th century than was known of the oceanic fringe area in the same latitudes.
In Asia the Red Sea stands out, being shown as red, a characteristic that derives, we are told less from the color of the water than from that of the sea bed. Moslem traders from cities along the Barbary Coast of North Africa began to cross the Sahara in the Middle Ages in an effort to bring back gold, rumored to be in great supply in the Sudan. Within the means of cartographic representations on this Atlas there appears to be no specialities, those symbols and other graphics used by Cresques correspond to those commonly used in the Middle Ages. The compiler of the prototype used by Cresques for the Catalan Atlas had recourse to different, sometimes even contradictory sources. In summary, the merit of the Catalan Atlas lay in the skill with which Cresques employed the best available contemporary sources to modify the traditional world picture, never proceeding further than the evidence warranted.
Today the original Catalan Atlas can be found in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, and has now assumed the form of seven loose wooden panels of which five inside ones bear one half of a sheet of the Atlas on each side, while the two outer ones consist of one side that bears a half sheet of the Atlas and one half of the binding on the other side.The first of the two preliminary sheets deals with the days of the month from the first to the thirtieth. As a response to this interest, Cresques extended his chart to include all that was then known of Asia, notably from Marco Polo's narrative. This town [Beijing] has an extent of 24 miles, is surrounded by a very thick outer wall and has a square ground plan. The description emphasizes the richness and urbanity of the Chinese capital at the edge of the civilized world. To the north is Catayo, the Great Khan and his capital of Chanbaleth; to the south Manji, with its great cities of Zayton and Cansay.
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King Charles requested this map from Peter of Aragon, patron of the best Majorcan mapmaker of the time: Abraham Cresques.
Originally the Catalan Atlas consisted of six large wooden panels that were covered with parchment on one side. To the right, from top to bottom, is a diagram of the tides; another lists the movable feasts, and a third drawing represents a blood-letting figure. The result is that the Atlas represents a transitionary step towards the world maps developed later during the Renaissance, especially by its extensive application of contemporary geographical knowledge and ambitious scope. Although the sailors were used to plainer charts whose importance lay principally in their utility and accuracy, even ordinary marine charts begin to follow the Catalan tradition with regards to their use of standardized color patterns. When in 1381 the envoy of the French king asked King Peter of Aragon for a copy of the latest world map (proof in itself that the reputation of the Catalan school had been widely recognized) he was given this example, which has been preserved in Paris ever since. For the first time in medieval cartography this continent assumed a recognizable form, with one or two notable exceptions. From west to east, the main divisions of the Mongol territory include the Empire of Sarra [the Kipchak Khanate], the Empire of Medeia [the Chagtai Khanate of the middle], and the suzerain empire of the Great Khan, Catayo [China].
Each side has a length of six miles, the wall is 20 paces high and lo paces thick, has 12 gateways and a large tower, in which hangs a great bell, which rings at the hour of first sleep or earlier.
The vertical waterway is the Grand Canal built by Kublai from Manji to Cambulac; below are the 7548 islands, rich in all manner of spicery, placed by Marco in the Sea of Chin.
Of these, Canton is not mentioned by Marco Polo; it was, however, much frequented by Arab navigators and traders, upon whose reports the compiler was probably drawing.
Yule points out that Kao-li was the name given for Korea, and he therefore considers that the island Cresques depicts here represents confused notions about both the Korean peninsula and Japan; otherwise there is no obvious graphic reference or hint of Zipangu [Japan]. The first is difficult to explain; to make up for it the cartographer has inserted a great island of Jana [Java], which however was probably intended for Sumatra.
The notion that there were Christian rulers east of the Islamic world stems largely from the legend of Prester John; also important, however, were the real Christian minorities in India and the fact that the tomb of Saint Thomas was thought to be in Mailapore, a suburb of Madras, the Mirapore of the map. And it sometimes happens though rarely, that the widow of the dead man throws herself into the flames,a€? a practice that recalls widow-burning (sutti) of India.
There we are told that Satan came to his aid and helped him to imprison the Tartars Gog and Magog.
The Persian Gulf, extending almost due west, has an outline similar to that on the Dulcert map, but is otherwise superior to any earlier map. Herein lies a succession of physical features: mountains, rivers, lakes and towns with corrupt but recognizable forms of their medieval names as given in the narratives of the great travelers of the 13th century. It is also possible to discern traces of their second journey, accompanied by Marco, in which they employed the 'south road' of the silk route, and, except for a detour through Ormis at the bottom of the Persian Gulf, ran from Trebizond through Eri [Herat], Badakshan, and along the southern edge of the Tarim basin from Khotan to the city of Lop. Unlike many classical and fellow medieval scholars, the draftsman of Majorca showed praiseworthy restraint in this respect. For here, as is often the case in other maps of the period, the cartographer compensated for the dearth of known geographical points by including historical facts.
The delineation of the Nile river system is vitiated, however, by the conception that it flowed from a great lake in the Guinea region, Lacus Nili.
As previously mentioned, the early draftsmen insisted upon cutting the continent short just beyond the limit of coastal knowledge, that is, in the vicinity of Cape Bojador.
It is cut in two by a land passage, a conventional allusion to Moses' miraculous crossing (Exodus, 14:2122). Between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea appears the King of Tauris [Tabriz] and north of him Jani-Beg, ruler of the kingdom of the Golden Horde, who died in 1357. Stories reached 14th century Europe of the splendor of Mansa Musa, ruler of the Mali and lord of Guinea, one of the reputed richest of the 'Negro Kingdoms' of the Sudan, whose pilgrimage to Mecca created a sensation in 1324. However, there are great differences to be observed between what is labeled by some the a€?portolano sectiona€? (sheets 3 and 4, Europe and North Africa) and the rest of the map sheets.
The legendary Insula de Brazil, for example, which is found on various medieval maps of the North Atlantic and later gave its name to Brazil, is shown here twice, once west of Ireland and a second time farther south.


Elsewhere, however, the weight of received opinion is still felt, as, for example, in the various islands with fabulous names; they cannot represent the Madeiran group, as these islands were discovered only in 1418-1419.
In the same spirit he removed from the map many of the traditional fables which had been accepted for centuries, and preferred to omit the northern and southern regions entirely, or to leave southern Africa blank rather than fill it with the anthropagi and other monsters which adorn the bulk of medieval maps. This contrasts strongly with the people of the islands farther east who are described as savages living naked, eating raw fish, and drinking sea water. This form later was transformed into a block-book, in which each sheet formed a double page, the parchment itself serving as a hinge between each of the two wooden panels.
The latter is accompanied by a long text describing the world; it deals with its creation, the four elements of which it is composed, its shape, dimensions, and divisions. Though the Catalan Atlas is the earliest complete example of its kind which has survived, it was undoubtedly preceded by other similar attempts at extending the range of the portolan chart. Thus, pilots knew at a glance, for instance, that any port lettered in red offered revictualing and a safe harbor; dots and crosses, on the other hand, indicated underwater hazards. Continental interiors are filled with detail, compass lines drawn, and decorative items are added to enhance the nearly up-to-date picture. Its capital at Cambalucr or Chanbaleth [Beijing], the city of the Great Khan which so intrigued the chroniclers of the 14th century, receives due prominence, with a long legend describing its magnitude and grandeurs. When it has finished ringing, no one may pass through the town, and at each gate a thousand men are on guard, not out of fear but in honor of the sovereign. The attempt at representing the configuration of the coast suggests at least that his informants were interested from a maritime point of view. Altogether, as mentioned above, we are told there are 7,548 islands in the Indian Ocean; they are rich in gold, silver, spices, and precious stones, so much so that a€?great ships of many different nationsa€? trade in their waters.
Farther north is the realm of Kebek Khan, a historical figure who reigned from 1309 to 1326: a€?Here reigns King Chabeh, ruler of the Kingdom of the Middle Horde. Here the text contains information from Marco Polo's account of how in the province of Malabar the death of criminals, who are compelled to commit suicide, is celebrated by their relatives with his observation on the custom of widows immolating themselves on the pyres of their dead husbands, mentioned a few lines later.
In the Gulf, the island of Ormis [Hormuz] is shown, opposite the former settlement of the same name on the mainland. These are jumbled together in a manner sometimes difficult to understand, but with the help of Marco Polo's narrative, it is possible to disentangle the itineraries which the map was evidently intended to set out. East of this lies the lake, Yssikol [Issik Kul], and Emalech the seat of the Khan, the Armalec of other travelers, in the Kuldja region.
The compiler, however, perhaps because he confused this desert area with the Gobi, has transferred this stretch to the north of the Issik Kul. In addition to Asia, the narratives of contemporary travelers were also extensively used by Cresques in Africa.
We are told, for example, that merchants bound for Guinea pass the Atlas mountain range, shown here in its typical form of a bird's leg with three claws at its eastern end, at Val de Durcha.
This rare speculation on the part of Cresques contained at least some partial truth because the Lacus Nili, the Pactolus of Strabo, and the Palolus of later maps, which in the Catalan Atlas and subsequent works is located in the neighborhood of Timbuktu, may reasonably be identified with the flood region of the Niger. By so doing, however, they found themselves reducing the vast extent of the Sahara almost to a vanishing point. The port of Quseir is clearly marked, and the accompanying text specifies that it is here that spices are taken on land and sent to Cairo and Alexandria.
The importance of Baghdad as a center of the spice trade is emphasized; from there, precious wares from India are sent throughout the Syrian land and especially to Damascus.
This African prince appears in the Catalan Atlas in a stately fashion with crown, orb, and scepter, with the inscription: The richest and noblest King in the world. In this section the coastlines are greatly differentiated and the abundance of names is in great contrast with the quantity of information, literally and graphically, supplied in sheets 5 and 6 (Asia). Nor can they be the Azores, which are first mentioned in 1427, or the Cape Verde Islands discovered only in 1455-1456. They are obviously to be identified with the Ichthyophagi, one of the fabulous races traditionally placed in Asia or in Africa. This arrangement led to the folds of the precious sheets becoming worn through with use, so that these sheets were divided into 12 half-sheets, mounted on boards to fold like a screen.
Then come geographical accounts of countries, continents, oceans, and tides, as well as astronomical and meteorological information.
Abraham Cresques, a Jew of Palma on the island of Majorca, for many years was 'master of mappaemundi and compasses', i.e. From the Mar del Sarra [Caspian Sea] in the west, with a fairly accurate outline in the style of the portolan charts, the Mongol domains stretch away eastwards to the coasts of Catayo [China]. Some of the islands off Quinsay may stand for the Chusan archipelago, and further to the south is the large island of Caynam, [Hainan]. The kingdoms of India as enumerated by Polo are absent from the map, and there are significant differences in the towns appearing in the two documents. The reference is to the gate that Alexander is supposed to have built in the Caspian Mountains to exclude Gog and Magog, who are here equated with various Central Asian tribes. The Southern Arabian coast has names differing from those given by Polo, and in one of them, Adramant, we may recognize the modern Hadhramaut. The delineation is then confused by the repetition of the Badakshan uplands, the mountains of Baldassia, a mistake that probably arose from confusion over the river system of southern Asia.
In fact the section illustrated by #235B is thought to represent Nicolo and Maffeo Polo, with their Mongol envoys, crossing the Tien Shan mountains on their way through what is now China's Sinkiang Province, to Beijing (south is at the top).
Here the special feature of interest on the Catalan Atlas is the inscription and picture of the vessel recording the departure of the Catalan, Jacome Ferrer, on a voyage to the 'river of gold' southwest of the new Finisterre of Bojador in 1346.
More geographical information is given on the Maghreb, which, after all, is part of the Mediterranean. Thanks to their notorious capacity to travel long distances without water, they completely transformed African trade, opening sub-Saharan areas to Islam.
In Arabia, between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, is located the kingdom of Sheba; the queen, who came to visit King Solomon, is shown crowned and holding a golden disk as symbol of her wealth.
Navigational information is also recorded: a€?From the mouth of the river of Baghdad, the Indian and Persian Oceans open out.
The mountains in the European and African section are arranged in chains or chain-like symbols, in Asia they appear as regular humped garlands of rocks.
The Catalan Atlas, in fact, marks the progress in the gradual discovery of the Atlantic and the west coast of Africa with an illustration of Jaime Ferrera€™s ship, which, we are told, set sail on lo August 1346 bound for the fabulous Rio de Oro [River of Gold] in Africa. In this spirit of critical realism, Cresques and his fellow Catalan cartographers of the 14th century, threw off the bonds of tradition and anticipated the achievements of the Renaissance. The city stands near the apex of a triangle formed by two rivers and the ocean; each of the two rivers divides into three before reaching the sea, a representation embodying a somewhat confused notion of the inter-linked natural and artificial waterways of China.
Four half-sheets are occupied by cosmographical and navigational data, they describe the whole concept of the world, show astronomical and astrological representations, and provide information about the calendar, the sun, moon, planets, the signs of the zodiac and the tides. The second sheet presents a spectacular diagram of a large astronomical and astrological wheel.
This country makes a sweep from east to south with an approach to its actual form, and along it's coast appear several of the great medieval ports and trading centers frequented by Arab merchants. There Cresques placed some of the fabulous and monstrous races legendary in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages: a€?On this island are people who are very different from the rest of mankind.
Conspicuous on the map is the Christian Kingdom and city of Columbo, placed on the east coast. And know that these people marry at the age of about twelve years and generally live to be 40 years old. The island of Scotra, an important stage on the trade route from Aden to India, is misplaced to the east, and appears to occupy the approximate position of the Kuria Muria Islands.
The legend above them reads, in translation: This caravan left the Empire of Sarra to go to Catayo, across a Great Desert (Sarai, on the Edil [Volga], was the capital of the Kipchak Tartars, from which the Polos had set out about 1262. This refers to the northwest coast of Africa which extends beyond Cape Bojador to a point just north of the Rio d'Oro.
Later draftsmen, in order to escape the embarrassment caused by indicating the great trans-Saharan caravan routes within these narrow limits, began to speculate on the course of the west African coast, south of Bojador.
Here they fish for pearls, which are supplied to the town of Baghdad.a€? We learn that a€?before they dive to the bottom of the sea, pearl fishers recite magic spells with which they frighten away the fisha€? a piece of information that comes straight from Marco Polo, who mentions that the pearl fishers on the Malabar coast are protected by the magic and spells of the Brahmins. The heathens believe that Paradise is situated there, because the islands have such a temperate climate and such a great fertility of the soil.


For this reason the heathens of India believe that their souls are transported to these islands after death, where they live for ever on the scent of these fruits. An even earlier chart (probably covering the whole 'world' originally), that by Angelino Dulcert, of Majorca, dated 1339, also has points of resemblance to the Catalan Atlas. There are several references to world maps executed by him, though this is the only one now known. There is a further allusion to Alexander having erected two trumpet-blowing figures in bronze; these, according to various medieval legends, resounded with the wind and frightened the Tartars until the instruments were blocked up by various nesting birds and animals. For India and the ocean to the west, therefore, we may conclude that charts were used which differed in detail from Polo's account, though similar in general features. Here unfortunately the map ends; unlike the Medici Atlas, or some others, it makes no attempt at a representation, conjecture or otherwise, of the southern portion of this continent.
The text beside a Touareg riding on a camel and also a group of tents informs us that this land is inhabited by veiled people living in tents and riding camels. Various trading stations are indicated on the shore of the Indian Ocean from Hormus, a€?where India begins,a€? to Quilon in Kerala.
With meticulous care the islands in the region of the portolan chart section are displayed, they are painted in color, some of them like Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica are shown in gold. The other elements (fire, air, water) are incorporated into the next three concentric circles; then come the seven planets, the band of the zodiac, and the various stations and phases of the moon. In view of the possible identity of Dulcert, and the Ligurian origin of the Medici Atlas, we may conclude that this type of world map, though developed by Catalans, originated early in the 14th century in northern Italy, where the narrative of Marco Polo, which, as will be seen, supplied many of the details embodied in the map, would be most readily available. After his death in 1387, his work was carried on by his son, Jafuda, who eventually instructed the Portuguese under the patronage of Prince Henry the Navigator.
This form of the name (it is rendered Coilum by Polo), and other details, suggest that the compiler drew upon the writings of Friar Jordanus, who was a missionary in this area, and whose Book of Marvels was completed and in circulation by 1340.
It is marked by a line of towns up the valley of the Edil from Agitarchan [Astrakhan] through Sarra [Sarai], Borgar, and thence eastward through Pascherit [probably representing the territory of the Bashkirs east of the middle Volga], and Sebur, or Sibir, a medieval settlement whose site is unknown, but thought to be on the upper Irtish.
The crowned black man holding a golden disk is identified as Musse Melly, a€?lord of the negroes of Guineaa€? - in fact, Mansa Musa, of fabulous wealth. Speculation of this sort did at least have the merit of enabling the mapmaker to draw the Sahara with greater accuracy. These proportions are of some significance, for they have undoubtedly restricted the cartographer in his portrayal of the extreme northern and southern regions.
The next six rings are devoted to the lunar calendar and to an account of the effect of the moon when it is found in the different signs of the zodiac. The Catalan Atlas says: The circumference of the earth is 180,000 stadia, that is to say 20,052 miles (this is the same calculation as Ptolemy's, yet it was given a full thirty years prior to the first known Latin translation of his Geographia, #119 ). But the day of the Jewish school of cartography at Majorca was already drawing to a close, owing to the wave of persecution which swept through the Aragon kingdom in the latter years of the century. Possibly additions were also made so that the map might serve as an illustration to his narrative.
In this quarter, the information upon which the map is based was not drawn from Marco Polo. Also its treatment of the Atlantic islands: the Azores, Canary, and Madeira groups, is more complete than any representation of earlier times. The gap in the snake-like Atlas Mountain chain of North Africa is meant to illustrate a pass that these Arab merchants commonly used (#235A). This was perhaps to some extent deliberate, for two years before the composition of this map, we hear of the Infant John (son of Peter of Aragon) demanding a map 'well executed and drawn with its East and West' and figuring 'all that could be shown of the West and of the Strait [of Gibraltar] leading to the West'.
Three more rings show, respectively, the division of the circle into degrees, while the last gives an account of the Golden Number.
There are still other names which are not found in Jordanus either; but the commercial importance of Cambay (Canbetum, on the map) would account for the relatively detailed information about this region. To the south is a long east-west range, called the Mountains of Sebur, representing the northwestern face of the Tien Shan and Altai.
His pilgrimage to Mecca, including a visit to Cairo, was famous for the enormous amount of gold he spent on that occasion.
The Infant, in other words, was interested, not in northern Europe and Asia or in southern Africa, but in the Orient and the Western Ocean. They eat white men and strangers, if they can catch them.a€? The reference is to giants familiar from the medieval Alexander legend, specifically defined here as Anthropophagi.
There is, surprisingly, no indication of the river Indus, a striking omission also from Polo's narrative. In the late 13th and early 14th centuries there were Franciscan mission stations at these localities, and the details no doubt came originally from the friars. This is plausible enough, for he controlled a large part of Africa, from Gambia and Senegal to Gao on the Niger, and had access to some of its richest gold deposits. The cartographer satisfied him by cutting out, as it were, an east-west rectangle from a circular world map which would cover the desired area.
George Grosjean, in his commentary on the 1977 facsimile edition of the Atlas, stresses that the orientation of this map must be understood from its essential part. To these far distant waters are also relegated mermaids, some of them probably the traditional half-woman and half-fish, the others more siren-like half-birds. This oversight probably arose from confusion that often can be found between the Indus and the river Ganges.a€?The Indian powers are represented on the Catalan Atlas by the Sultan of Delhi and the Hindu King of Vijayanagar, who is wrongly identified as a Christian. Reports of the fabulous wealth of this African ruler did much to encourage an interest in the exploration of Africa.
This oversight probably arose from confusion that often can be found between the Indus and the river Ganges.The Indian powers are represented on the Catalan Atlas by the Sultan of Delhi and the Hindu King of Vijayanagar, who is wrongly identified as a Christian. The map was constructed in the portolano style, a type of medieval navigation chart which was intended to lie on the chart-table of a ship and always was oriented to the necessities of navigation, thus there is no 'orientation of priority' of such maps. The one illustrated has two fishtails, in accordance with one of the most common medieval conventions. Farther north appear the Three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem and at the top (or bottom) of the map a caravan; all of the latter figures are drawn upside down, as the map was probably meant to be laid horizontally and viewed from both sides. The shape of the Catalan Atlas, therefore, must not be taken as evidence on questions such as the extent, form or knowledge of the African continent; nor does the change from a circular to a rectangular frame indicate specifically any change in ideas relating to the shape of the earth. Since the Atlas was not intended as a portolano for daily use but instead was a luxury edition for a princely library, it is useless to ask for correct orientation of the map-sheets.
Camels laden with goods are followed by their drivers; behind them various people, one of them asleep, are riding horses. This fact notwithstanding, however, as the legends that are legible prevail in north-orientation, in the modern literature of the maps the north-orientation is now adopted.a€?A major impetus to the advancement of exploration in Western Europe during the later Middle Ages came through the evolution and use of this very kind of map, the nautical chart or portolano.
This fact notwithstanding, however, as the legends that are legible prevail in north-orientation, in the modern literature of the maps the north-orientation is now adopted.A major impetus to the advancement of exploration in Western Europe during the later Middle Ages came through the evolution and use of this very kind of map, the nautical chart or portolano. Designed to assist mariners find their way at sea, it served a practical purpose akin to that of the future road map, but it answered this purpose by depicting not the route itself, but detailed coastlines and hazards to shipping. Mariners previously had to rely on written itineraries which can be traced back to the peripli or coastal pilots of the classical world. Following the introduction of the mariner's compass in Europe towards the end of the 13th century, nautical or portolan charts were made as an extension of the peripli, constructed on a framework of radiating compass lines, with north at the top. Places were located and marked around the coasts, while places located further inland and usually the entire interior of the continents were left blank. The province and town of Lop mentioned by Marco Polo can be connected with the modern town of Ruoqiang (Charkhlik) south of Lop Nor.
It should be emphasized that while the Atlas was drawn in the portolano style, it is not, strictly speaking, a portolan chart.
The typical nautical chart, which some scholars believe had its origin with the Catalan mapmakers, had hitherto been cartographically the very opposite of the medieval theocratic or ecclesiastical maps. Portolan charts traditionally displayed only known, discovered coasts, precisely detailed harbors, river mouths, rocks, shallows, currents, etc.



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