SOAS University of London


28 January - 21 March 2003

Map Making

The earliest printed maps of Arabia were adapted from the "Geographia" of Claudius Ptolemy. His view of the Arabian Peninsula dominated understanding of the area for many years until European interests in the area grew and more reliable information was needed.

The European Age of Discovery encouraged traders to look much further afield and a sea route to India and beyond became a requirement. With the huge problems of travelling via the Cape of Good Hope an alternative was eagerly sought. The first to try to move into the area were the Portuguese who produced, for their own purposes, a number of portolans (manuscript sea charts) showing exceptionally good outline mapping of coastlines.

In 1548, Giacomo Gastaldi produced the first separate non-Ptolemaic map of Arabia in his version of the "Geographia" so this is the first contemporary map specifically of Arabia. This was the basis for Western mapping of Arabia and the Gulf region for many years. In many atlases Arabia was included as part of an overall Turkish Empire map, as in Europe during this period little distinction was made between Arabs and Turks. It was often more convenient for the engraver and publisher though it meant that individual maps of Arabia, the Red Sea and the Gulf featured less frequently.