TITLE: Chart of the Ocean Sea
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
The Piri Re'is map of 1513 came to light in the old imperial palace at Istanbul
in 1931. The Illustratcd London News published a reproduction of
it on 25th Februarv 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 vear 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 Chnstopher 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 plainlv 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
(From 'The Oldest Map of Amenca." by Protessor Dr. Afet Inan. Ankara
1954, pp. 28-34. The Roman numerals refer to the key map.)
I. There is a kind of red dye called vakami, that you do not observe at
first, because it is at a distance ... the mountains contain rich ores ...
There some of the sheep have silken wool.
II. This country is inhabited. The entire population goes naked.
III. This region is known as the vilayet of Antilia. It is on the side where
the sun sets. They say that there are four kinds of parrots, white, red,
green and black. The people eat the flesh of parrots and their headdress
is made entirely of parrots' feathers. There is a stone here. It resembles
black touchstone. The people use it instead of the ax. That it is very hard
. . . [illegible]. Pe saw that stone.
[NOTE: Piri Reis writes in the Bahriye: "In the enemy ships
which we captured in the Mediterranean, we found a headdress made of these
parrot feathers, and also a stone resembling touchstone."]
IV. This map was drawn bv Piri Ibn Haji Mehmed, known as the nephew of Kemal
Reis, in Gallipoli, in the month of
muharrem of the year 919 (that is, between the 9th of March and the 7th
of April of the vear 1513).
V. This section tells how these shores and also these islands were found.
These coasts are named the shores of Antilia. They were discovered in the
year 896 of the Arab calendar. But it is reported thus, that a Genoese infidel,
his name was Colombo, he it was who discovered these places. For instance,
a book fell into the hands of the said Colombo, and he found it said in
this book that at the end of the Western Sea [Atlantic] that is, on its
westem side, there were coasts and islands and all kinds of metals and also
precious stones. The above-mentioned, having studied this book thoroughly,
explained these matters one by one to the great of Genoa and said: "Come,
give me two ships, let me go and find these places." They said: "O
unprofitable man, can an end or a limit be found to the Westem Sea? Its
vapour is full of darkness." The above-mentioned Colombo saw that no
help was forthcoming from the Genoese, he sped forth, went to the Bey
of Spain [king], and told his tale in detail. They too answered like the
Genoese. In brief Colombo petitioned these people for a long time, finally
the Bey of Spain gave him two ships, saw that they were well equipped, and
O Colombo, if it happens as you say, let us make you kapudan [admiral]
to that country." Having said which he sent the said Colombo to the
Western Sea. The late Gazi Kemal had a Spanish slave. The above-mentioned
slave said to Kemal Reis, he had been three times to that land with Colombo.
He said: "First we reached the Strait of Gibraltar, then from there
straight south and west between the two . . . [illegible]. Having advanced
straight four thousand miles, we saw an island facing us, but gradually
the waves of the sea became foamless, that is, the sea was becalmed and
the North Star-the seamen on their compasses still say star-little by little
was veiled and became invisible, and he also said that the stars in that
region are not arranged as here. They are seen in a different arrangement.
They anchored at the island which they had seen earlier across the way,
the population of the island came, shot arrows at them and did not allow
them to land and ask for information. The males and the females shot hand
arrows. The tips of these arrows were made of fishbones, and the whole population
went naked and also very ... [illegible]. Seeing that they could not land
on that island; thev crossed to the other side of the island, they saw a
boat. On seeing them; the boat fled and they [the people in the boat] dashed
out on land. They [the Spaniards] took the boat. They saw that inside of
it there was human flesh. It happened that these people were of that nation
which went from island to island hunting men and eating them. They said
Colombo saw yet another island, they neared it, they saw that on that island
there were great snakes. They avoided landing on this island and remained
there seventeen days. The people of this island saw that no harm came to
them from this boat, they caught fish and brought it to them in their small
ship's boat [filika]. These [Spaniards] were pleased and gave them glass
beads. It appears that he [Colombus] had read-in the book that in that region
glass beads were valued. Seeing the beads they brought still more fish.
These [Spaniards] alwavs gave them glass beads. One day they saw gold around
the arm of a woman, they took the gold and gave her beads. They said to
them, to bring more gold, we will give you more beads, [they said]. They
went and brought them much gold. It appears that in their mountains there
were gold mines. One day, also, they saw pearls in the hands of one person.
They saw them when; they gave beads, manv more pearls were brought to them.
Pearls were found on the shore of this island, in a spot one or two fathoms
deep. And also loading their ship with many logwood trees and taking two
natives along, they carried them within that year to the Bey of Spain. But
the said Colombo, not knowing the language of these people, they traded
by signs, and after this trip the Bey of Spain sent priests and barley,
taught the natives how to sow and reap and converted them to his own religion.
They had no religion of any sort. They walked naked and lay there like animals.
Now these regions have been opened to all and have become famous. The names
which mark the places on the said islands and coasts were given by Colombo,
that these places may be known by them. And also Colombo was a great astronomer.
The coasts and island on this map are taken from Colombo's map.
VI. This section shows in what way this map was drawn. In this century there
is no map like this map in anyone's possession. The-hand of this poor man
has drawn it and now it is constructed. From about twenty charts and Mappae
Mundi-these are charts drawn in the days of Alexander, Lord of the Two Horns,
which show the inhabited quarter of the world; the Arabs name these charts
Jaferiye-from eight Jaferiyes of that kind and one Arabic map of Hind, and
from the maps just drawn by four Portuguese which show the countries of
Hind, Sind and China geometrically drawn, and also from a map drawn by Colombo
in the westem region I have extracted it. By reducing all these maps to
one scale this final form was arrived at. So that the present map is as
correct and reliable for the Seven Seas as the map of these our countries
is considered correct and reliable by seamen.
VII. It is related by the Portuguese infidel that in this spot night and
day are at their shortest of two hours, at their longest of twenty two hours.
But the dayv is very warm and in the night there is much dew.
VIII. On the way to the vilayet of Hind a Portuguese ship encountered a
contrary wind [blowing] from the shore. The wind from the shore . . . [illegible]
it [the ship]. After being driven by a storm in a southern direction they
saw a shore opposite them they advanced towards it [illegible]. They saw
that these places are good anchorages. They threw anchor and went to the
shore in boats. They saw people walking, all of them naked. But they shot
arrows, their tips made of fishbone. They stayed there eight days. They
traded with these people by signs. That barge saw these lands and wrote
about them which.... The said barge without going to Hind, retumed to Portugal,
where, upon arrival gave information.... They described these shores in
detail.... They have discovered them.
IX. And in this country it seems that there are white-haired monsters in
this shape, and also six-horned oxen. The Portuguese infidels have written
it in their maps....
X. This country is a waste. Everything is in ruin and it is said that large
snakes are found here. For this reason the Portuguese infidels did not land
on these shores and these are also said to be very hot.
XI. And these four ships are Portuguese ships. Their shape is written down.
They travelled from the westem land to the point of Abyssinia [Habesh] in
order to reach India. They said towards Shuluk. The distance across this
gulf is 4200 miles.
XII.... on this shore a tower ... is however ... in this climate gold .
. . taking a rope ... is said they measured
[NOTE: The fact that half of each of these lines is missing is the clearest
proof of the map's having been torn in two.]
XIII. And a Genoese kuke [a type of ship] coming from Flanders was caught
in a storm. Impelled bv the storm it came upon these islands, and in this
manner these islands became known.
XIV. It is said that in ancient times a priest by the name of Sanvolrandan
(Santo Brandan) travelled on the Seven Seas, so they say. The above-mentioned
landed on this fish. They thought it dry land and lit a fire upon this fish,
when the fish's back began to burn it plunged into the sea, they reembarked
in their boats and fled to the ship. This event is not mentioned by the
Portuguese infidels. It is taken from the ancient Mappae Mundi.
XV. To these small islands they have given the name of Undizi Vergine. That
is to say the Eleven Virgins.
XVI. And this island they call the Island of Antilia. There are many monsters
and parrots and much logwood. It is not inhabited.
XVII. This barge was driven upon these shores by a storm and remained where
it fell.... Its name was Nicola di Giuvan. On his map it is written that
these rivers which can be seen have for the most part gold [in their beds].
When the water has gone they collected much gold [dust] from the sand. On
XVIII. This is the barge from Portugal which encountered a storm and came
to this land. The details are written on the edge of this map. [NOTE: see
XIX. The Portuguese infidels do not go west of here. All that side belongs
entirely to Spain. They have made an agreement that [a line] two thousand
miles to the westem side of the Strait of Gibraltar should be taken as a
boundary. The Portuguese do not cross to that side but the Hind side and
the southem side belong to the Portuguese.
XX. And this caravel having encountered a storm was driven upon this island.
Its name was Nicola Giuvan. And on this island there are many oxen with
one horn. For this reason they call this island Isle de Vacca, which means,
XXI. The admiral of this caravel is named Messir Anton the Genoese, but
he grew up in Portugal. One day the above-mentioned caraval encountered
a storm, it was driven upon this island. He found much ginger here and has
written about these islands.
XXII. This sea is called the Western Sea, but the Frank sailors call it
the Mare d'Espagna. Which means the Sea of Spain. Up to now it was known
by these names, but Colombo, who opened up this sea and made these islands
known, and also the Portuguese, infidels who have opened up the region of
Hind have agreed together to give this sea a new name. They have given it
the name of Ovo Sano [Oceano] that is to say, sound egg. Before this it
was thought that the sea had no end or limit, that at its other end was
darkness. Now they have seen that this sea is girded by a coast, because
it is like a lake, they have called it Ovo Sano.
XXIII. In this spot there are oxen with one horn, and also monsters in this
XXIV. These monsters are seven spans long. Between their eyes there is a
distance of one span. But they are harmless souls.
LOCATION: Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul
Size: 90 X 63 cm
*George, W., Animals and Maps, pp. 60-62, Figure 3.2
*Hapgood, C.H., Maps of the Ancienct Sea Kings, pp. 4-68
*Nebenzahl, K., Atlas of Columbus, pp. 62-63, Plate 20
*Wolff, J., Maps of North America, p. 43, #62