Trailing Illustrated Ottoman Maps: Kitab-ı Bahriye

Günsel Renda - Professor, Department of Archaeology and History of Art, Koç University



The study of historical maps and sea charts indicates that cartographers have considered mapmaking both as a science and as an art, aiming to record topographical details but also history. Illustrated maps have a pictorial presence, and the artistic component of maps should also be the concern of historians and art historians. A study of such maps and sea charts from the Mediterranean reveals the interplay between diverse cultures on the region and especially political and cultural relations between the Ottomans and the Mediterranean countries.

Several maps and sea charts were produced by the Ottomans in the 16th century. The Ottoman expansion policy in the Mediterranean signalled Ottoman supremacy in the Aegean by the 1520s; and the continued interest in campaigns in the Mediterranean necessitated a powerful fleet and extensive geographical material, so various maps, sea charts, atlases and siege plans were produced. Piri Reis, the renowned seaman and cartographer during the reigns of Selim I and Süleyman the Magnificent, blazed the trail in illustrated Ottoman maps. His Kitab-ı Bahriye [Book of navigation], a guidebook for seamen, contains charts of the Mediterranean and maps and drawings of certain harbours and cities. Such city views or plans in Ottoman maps and atlases are important for having initiated a genre in Ottoman painting that can be called topographical painting.

This paper will examine the original copy of the Kitab-ı Bahriye produced in 1521, its 16th- and 17th-century extended copies and especially the copy dated 1718 in the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation collection, which is one of the latest copies of Piri Reis’ original work. The illustrations will be compared with those of earlier copies, particularly in view of developments in 17th- and 18th-century Ottoman painting, also referring to the connection between cartographers and artists who merged mapping and painting, reflecting the circulation of visual taste in di erent art circles in the Mediterranean.



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