SOAS University of London

London Middle East Institute

Mapping the Mediterranean by the Cartographers of Medieval Islamic Societies

The Mediterranean by Istakhri, 10th century
Cyrus Alai

Date: 30 October 2018Time: 5:45 PM

Finishes: 30 October 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture

Islamic cartographers perceived the Mediterranean as a sea which unites all of its shores, making them one geographical entity, contrary to the European perception of a sea which divides the world into three continents. The map of Ma’mun, devised in the early 9th century, represents a major improvement in mapping of that Sea. Most of the later medieval Islamic maps of the Mediterranean are based on the originals of Balkhi/Istakhri and Ibn-Hawqal made during the 10th century. They are drawn in a symbolic style, and are supported by geographical texts. Most of these maps show the Atlantic at the top, and the four points of the compass at four corners of the page. The larger world map of al-Idrisi shows the Mediterranean in a more realistic style, and seems to be superior to the European Mappa Mundi of the time. Towards the end of the 15th century, the Islamic cartography was increasingly influenced by the new European traditions of mapmaking, and was rapidly losing its originality. The Piri Reis map of the Mediterranean bears witness to this claim.

Cyrus Alai was born in Iran and received his PhD from Technische Universität, Berlin. He founded and directed for twenty years a group of engineering companies in Iran, and also lectured at the University of Teheran. Dr Alai settled later in England, working as a consulting engineer and at the same time studying the history of cartography and collecting old maps of Persia. He has written numerous articles on ‘the cartography of Persia’ and ‘the cartography of medieval Islamic societies’, including the entry ‘Geography/Cartography of Persia’ for the Encyclopaedia Iranica. He is the author of the award winning two monumental volumes of the General/Special Maps of Persia, published by Brill in 2005 and 2010. In 2013, he donated his unique collection of old maps of Persia to SOAS, to be made available to all scholars, researches and others worldwide.

Chair: Hassan Hakimian, LMEI 

Admission Free - All Welcome

Image: The Mediterranean by Istakhri, 10th century

Organiser: London Middle East Institute

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