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Maps : Portolan chart of the Aegean Sea and part of the Eastern Mediterranean


<p style='text-align: justify;'>Cambridge University Library possesses no other original examples of this rare and important type of early maritime chart. The story behind the unearthing of our sheet is of particular note as it was acquired, quite by accident, amongst a miscellaneous collection of some 200 Turkish maps purchased in 1969. A very welcome surprise!</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Portolan charts are hand drawn sea charts with very specific characteristics – as exemplified by our example - used in navigation and produced mainly for the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The earliest surviving example dates from the late 13th century. Cambridge University Library’s portolan was originally thought to date from between 1480 and 1520. However, research has since revealed the cartographer to be Estienne Bremond (part of his signature can be seen near the scale bar) and it is now thought to have been drawn in about 1650. Estienne Bremond was probably part of a family of cartographers from Marseilles who were involved in chart-making up until the early 18th century.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Portolan charts are manuscript, often drawn on vellum, and display a distinctive network of directional lines (rhumb lines) radiating out from particular points on the chart. Place names are written on the land side of the coastline so as not to obscure navigational information, with the most important names written in red, the rest in black. In the late medieval period printed books of textual sailing instructions began circulating within the Mediterranean Sea. In Italian these are known as portolani and it is from this that the portolan chart derives its name.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This chart shows the traditional delimitations found on Aegean Sea charts, ranging from Crete (Candia) to the Bosphorus and Istanbul (Constantipolj and Galatato), the largest city shown on the map.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The region’s many islands, with the exception of Crete, are shown in several different colours, which include red, blue, green and sometimes even gold. Cities are symbolised by houses without attempting to achieve topographic or architectural accuracy.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The map includes two unnumbered scales, one of which is incorporated into a cartouche of a heavenly character blowing a gust of wind northward. There are also eleven compass roses, each with a fleur-de-lis to its north and thirty-two rhumb lines spanning outward in both red and green.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The chart was scanned by the Library’s Digital Content Unit after the Map Department came joint third in their 2018 digitisation competition.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Ian Pittock<br /> Cambridge University Library </p>

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