Putting America on the map: Cartographic masterpieces at the Topkapı Palace

By Griselda Warr | May 11, 2013

Before and After Pîrî Reis: Maps at the Topkapı Palace 

It’s a simple title but it doesn't prepare you for the treat in the Topkapı stables. The earliest maps on display in this exhibition (until May 20) are based on Ptolemy’s Geography but we quickly move on to maps that show the development of Islamic cartography. And they are gorgeous. Some on vellum, some on paper, many gilded and illustrated so they can be appreciated as images as well as cartographic masterpieces.

Pîrî Reis was an admiral, geographer and cartographer in the 16th century who is best known for his Kitâb-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation). His map of the world showed part of the Americas and the coast of Africa. Topkapı Sarayı may have one of the best collections of his work and many people will enjoy the exhibition for his maps alone.

But the exhibition has a broader focus and goes on to include a detailed chart of the Black Sea, the north and south poles, detailed plans of cities under siege and much more. One of the more unusual items is a scroll produced to thank Süleyman the Magnificent for the Arafat Water Project which channeled water to Mecca and Mount Arafat. On a smaller scale we see how water reached Topkapı Sarayı from the aqueduct of Valens. And yes, those maps are beautiful too.

A well illustrated catalogue is available in the Topkapı shops for 90TL and will soon be available from cornucopia.net, price £40. Enquires: books@cornucopia.net

Griselda Warr is a book expert and curator and the author of 'Adventures in Istanbul', her memories of a childhood in Sixties Istanbul (Cornucopia 44) 

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