Piri Reis Map

This Famous Map, drawn by Piri Reis, currently resides in the Museum of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.

"The map, which is drawn on parchment in colour, was executed by the Turkish geographer Piri Reis, a renowned cartographer of the 16th century. The map shows part of Europe and west coast of Africa, and eastern, central and south America, the Atlantic islands, and the ocean. A great deal of detail is given in South America. This map is in fact only the western section of the world drawn by Piri Reis and presented to Selim I in Cairo in 1517. It was prepared in Gelibolu. Piri Reis' map is the oldest known map which includes the continent of America."
~Topkapi Palace Website

Piri Reis Map
Click for LARGE 3.3MB,
1049X1449, copy of this map.

The Legend of the Piri Reis Map

   Piri Reis was a famous Turkish admiral in the sixteenth century who had a passionate interest in his collection of old maps. When the admiral's flagship tied up in some new port, Piri Reis and his aides scoured the bazaars for ancient charts and maps. During a now-forgotten sea battle, the admiral captured several enemy sailors. One of the captives boasted of sailing with Columbus on his three voyages to the new world.Reis, ever on the lookout for new information and maps, questioned the man, who turned out to be one of Columbus's pilots. Reis asked if Columbus was mad, or if he knew that there was land accross the ocean. The pilot said he knew, that he had maps, and that the pilot still had the maps!The admiral's eyes scanned the yellowed charts. The tracings on the parchment were precise. Using his collection of antique charts, Admiral Piri Reis compiled a world map in 1513. In 1929, a group of historians, poking around in the harem section of the Palace of Topkapi in Istanbul, found the Piri Reis map in a pile of rubble. These scholars were aston- ished to discover that the map showed the coastal outlines of South and North America. It also included precise data on the southern polar continent, Antarctica, supposedly not discovered until 1818.Arlington T. Mallerey, an authority on ancient maps, eventually came into possession of these documents. He was puzzled to find that the geographical data on the map was not in the correct position. Assisted by the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Bureau, Mallerey made a grid and transferred the Piri Reis map onto a globe. The map was totally accurate.Later, studies by Professor Charles H. Hapgood and Richard W. Strachan revealed that the originals of the Piri Reis charts may have been aerial pictures snapped at a great height. The rivers, mountain ranges, islands, desserts, and plateaus, were drawn with unusual accuracy. As an example, Greenland was represented as being two separate islands. This was confirmed just recently by a French polar expedition; their seismic soundings beneath the surface indicated ice covers the space between the two islands.In Antarctica, an exploratory profile was made by seismic soundings. It revealed mountains and valleys beneath the ice cap that matched the markings on the Piri Reis map. In the January, 1966, issue of Fate magazine, Professor Charles H. Hapgood explained the sensational discovery

"Now this was extraordinary. In the first place, nobody is supposed to have discovered Antarctica until 1818, three hundred years after Piri Reis, and it is regarded as unthinkable that the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians or Phoenicians could have sailed that far. In the second place, the ice cap in Antarctica is supposed to be millions of years old, and therefore to have been in existence long before man evolved on earth. Mallerey's suggestion (that someone had mapped the south polar continent before the ice cap originated) appeared outrageous and scientists in general refused to concern themselves with it."

It seems incredible that ancient cartographers had maps that were more accurate than the best charts produced today. Yet, Captain Mallerey stated that "it was evident that there was very little ice then, at either pole. But, secondly, they had a record, for example, of every mountain range in Northern Canada and Alaska, including some ranges that the Army Map Service did not have. The U.S. Army has since found them! Just how they were able to do it, we do not know. But, you will probably recall that the Greeks had the legend of an airplane. We don't know how they could map so accurately without an airplane. But, map it they did. Not only that, but they knew their longitude correctly, something we could not do until two hundred years ago.

The Text On The Map

Reading some of the notes is really difficult. The map is transcribed by experts as follows:

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.

Piri Reis Map
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]. jPe saw that stone.

Area Covered By Piri Reis Map

[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 by 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 year 1513).

V. This section tells bow 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, be it was who discovered these places. For instance, a book fell into the hands of the said Colombo, and be found it said in this book that at the end of the Western Sea [Atlantic] that is, on its western side, there were coasts and islands and all kinds of metals and also precious stones. The abovementioned, 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 Western 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 said:

"O Colombo, if it happens as you say, let us make you kapudan [admiral] to that country." Having said which be sent the said Colombo to the Western Sea. The late Gazi Kemal had a Spanish slave. The above-mentioned slave said to Kemal Reis, be bad 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 fish bones, and the whole population went naked and also very . . . [illegible]. Seeing that they could not land on that island; they 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 [Columbus] had read-in the book that in that region glass beads were valued. Seeing the beads they brought still more fish. These [Spaniards] always 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 that when; they gave beads, many 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 western 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 day 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, returned to Portugal, where, upon arrival it 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 on their maps. . . .  

X. This country is a uninhabited. 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 traveled from the western land to the point of Abyssinia [Habesh] in order to reach India. They said towards Chalice. 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 by 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) traveled 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 re-embarked 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 had gone they collected much gold [dust] from the sand. On their map. . . .

XVIII. This is the barge from Portugal which encountered a storm and cam( to this land. The details are written on the edge of this map. [NOTE: see VIII.]

XIX. The Portuguese infidels do not go west of here. All that side belong,, entirely to Spain. They have made an agreement that [a line] two thousand mile., to the western 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 southern 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, Ox Island.

XXI. The admiral of this caravel is named Messir Anton the Genoese, but be grew up in Portugal. One day the above-mentioned caravel 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 shape.

XXIV. These monsters are seven spans long. Between their eyes there is a distance of one span. But they are harmless souls.

Piri Reis, Himself

    We do not exactly know the date of his birth, but we presume it to be between 1465-1470. He was born at Gelibolu, or "Gallipoli," as the Anglo-American world calls it, a lovely coastal town on the Marmara Sea, which was then used as a naval base. He was named Muhiddin Piri. His father was Hacı Mehmet, and his uncle, the famous admiral of the period, Kemal Reis. About the children born and brought up in this town, Ibni Kemal, the Turkish historian says: "The children of Gelibolu grow up in water like alligators. Their cradles are the boats. They are rocked to sleep with the lullaby of the sea and of the ships day and night."

This Turkish boy, too, falling asleep with the sound of the sea in his ears spends eleven years of his life in his native town. Like other Turkish children of the time, he acquires his early notions about the world from the ideas at home and around him, and also from the elementary teaching he was given. After he is twelve, he joins the crew of his uncle, Kemal Reis. Thereafter he is no longer an unknown Turkish youth, but Piri, a careful observer, and a sea-hero whose name will be remembered in history. He starts his career under the vigilance of his uncle, and takes part in all kinds of naval activities for fourteen uninterrupted years. We can follow him at this period of his life through his book, "Bahriye - On Navigation" in which he recorded his experiences of the places he visited with his uncle, and the historical events of the time in a most vivid and delightful style. The first fourteen years of Kemal Reis' life is spent in piracy, as was the custom at the time. After becoming a considerable power on the sea through his own personal efforts, in 1494 Kemal Reis accepted official recognition and position from the Ottoman Government, along with his worthy and experienced crew.

Several sources confirm the indication - that Piri was with Kemal Reis before this date. For instance, during a period when his uncle was at Eğriboz, he says in a passage in the Bahriye, about the monasteries of Athos: The aforesaid place is a long cape, 8o miles in length; to the Tracian side lies a dried up channel. In his book, the Bahriye, he makes the following remarks about the ports on the coast of Athos on the Khalkidhiki peninsula: "In front of the monastery of Alaviri stand native rocks, among which there lies a natural port. It can take only one boat at a time, but since the mouth of the port lies open to the north, the North and the East winds do much harm to the boat lying there. As we were lying in harbor the strong east-wind blew across to the north and damaged our boat, whereupon the monks from the monastery came to our rescue. They tied the boat down on all the four sides after which she could not move at all. Thus we were saved from the storm, and proceeded on our way."

The remarks refer to the coast of Athos. For the third peninsula he gives this information: "There is a cape at Karaburun. People call it the cape of Kesendere. From this cape to Kumburnu it is all covered with Pine woods. Kumburnu is a low and sandy cape; at the point it grows quite shallow. On it, 100 miles to the north-west lies the city of Salonica." In another version of the book he says something different about the same cape: "The coast of Kesendere as far as Kum Burnu is very shallow. Along the coast run tall Pine trees. But nobody knows where one can obtain drinking water. To the humble author of these lines Kara Hasan Reis showed the spot. "

In 1494 the Moslem population in Granada in Spain asked for help from the Tunisian, Egyptian and the Ottoman Governments. It was just then that Kemal Reis was leading a life of piracy and used his ships to transport these Moslems over to Africa. From 1487 to 1493 Piri participated in various activities on these seas under the supervision of his uncle.

Piri Reis gives remarkable information about the western coast of the Mediterranean and the islands there, and says the following about the island of Minorea of the Balearie Isles: "They call that port Portulano. It has a good harbor. As soon as you leave the harbor and turn along the eastern coast to the north you come upon a natural spring. It emerges from under a fig-tree. Around that spring you are sure to meet Arab and Turkish boats most of the time, for they obtain their water there. Further over it stands a fortress."

During six years of piracy around various islands and coasts on the Mediterranean, they fought against other pirates of the time, conquered ships and in bad weather spent the winter in favorable harbors. Kemal Reis stayed a long time along the African coast, in Algiers, Tunis and Bona, and formed friendly relations with the people there having an exceptionally good reception there. (Bahriye, 1935 Introduction). Thus while spending the winter months of 1490-1491 in the harbor at Bona they took part in the battle led by Kemal Reis against Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica.

One of these battles is recorded by Piri in this way: "There are some shallow spots along the aforesaid bay of Resereno; Terranova is a fortress on a low ground. Terranova means 'new town'. Now, the fore part of the town is a beach, a good shelter in the summer. The vessels lie three to four miles away from the land across the fortress. In the aforesaid harbor we overcame three vessels this time." (Bahriye, p.493).

Thus each event is recorded with the correct dates. For the island of Corsica Piri wrote a new chapter (pp. 523-529) and added a map of the island with detailed explanations giving the contour of the island as 400 miles, and said: "On this island stands a tall mountain rising from the north to the south. At this date I counted 25 peaks of this mountain in the eastern part of it. They looked just like the teeth of a saw. Every one of those peaks is covered with snow all through the year" (p.524).

About the inhabitants he says: "The aforesaid island of Corsica was a demesne of the Genoese, but later when the French conquered Genoa, among the others, this island, too, passed over to the French."

At the time, the ruling sultan was Bayezid II, son of Mehmet II, the Conqueror. After the death of his brother, Prince Jeni, in 1495 Bayezid started ruling the country without a rival. Aiming at greater conquests he endeavored to reinforce the territorial as well as the naval powers, and for that purpose brought under his banner the various units of Turkish pirate ships. He invited Kemal Reis to join the imperial fleet. He did so, with Piri Reis and Kara Hasan to help him. They all were experienced and trained sailors with good knowledge of the seas. In such a capacity did Piri Reis take part in the Mediterranean campaigns under Kemal Reis' supervision.

The first official acknowledgement of Piri's deeds is an account of the sea fights in the years 1499-1502. The actual commander-in-chief of the fleet belonging to the Supreme Admiral of all the Sea-Forces was Kemal Reis. In this fleet Piri was given official command of some of the vessels. His service in the battles (1500-1502) against the Venetians was remarkable. The great advantages that the Ottoman Empire acquired by the Treaty of Venice in 1502 were made possible mainly by the brave deeds of these seamen. After this date Piri works as an admiral of the fleet again, but at his uncle's death during a sea battle, Piri was deprived of his great protector. Because of some reason unknown to us, Piri had not taken part in that battle. There can be no doubt as to how deep a source of sorrow this loss was to Piri. The knowledge acquired in the tutorship of Kemal Reis and the accumulated experience during his life at sea had secured him fame and a firm position. After his uncle's death he left the openseas and started working on his first map of the world at Gelibolu. The portion of the map we now possess is a part of it.

Along with this map he arranged his notes for the book "Bahriye" which later turned out to be a kind of guide book on navigation. In 1516-1517 Piri was given command of several vessels taking part in the Ottoman campaign against Egypt. Under the command of Cafer Bey the fleet took Alexandria. With a part of this fleet Piri sailed to Cairo through the Nile, and later drew a map and gave detailed information about this area, too.

After Egypt was joined to the growing Empire, Piri had a chance of making the personal acquaintance of the ruling sovereign, Yavuz Selim; during the battle of Alexandria. He presented the map he had previously drawn to the Sultan. After the Egyptian campaign, during a period of relaxation at Gelibolu, he put his notes on "Bahriye" into book form.

The reign of Süleyman the Magnificent, who ascended the throne in 1520, is a history of successive victories. Piri's taking part in the Turkish fleet going to the campaign on Rhodes in 1523 is to be regarded as only natural.

Piri commemorates the royal command of Sultan Süleyman to him to act as a guide to Pargall Ibrahim Pasha, the Chief Vizir, in verse (pp. 549-550).

It was after this campaign that Ibrahim Pasha realized the importance of the "Bahriye" and urged Piri to put the notes into book form and copy them out again. Piri records that incident, too, at the end of the book in verse. Because of a storm at sea they cannot proceed on their way, and are compelled to take refuge at Rhodes. For Piri, however, this proves to be a good opportunity to make the Pasha's acquaintance.. Piri's frequent references does not fail to attract the Vizir's attention.

Encouraged by his words Piri rearranges the book to Gelibolu and copies it all out, and with the help of Ibrahim Pasha presents it to the Sultan. The date of the book is given in verse in the traditional way. From the final couplet one makes the date to be 1526 A.D. (923 by the Arabic Calendar).

In his preface to the book, Piri mentions the favorable reception it received from the Sultan. Later he draws another map and presents that, too, to Süleyman.

One can follow his life up to 1526 in this book. After this date, we deduce from the state records that Piri was appointed an admiral of ships in the south seas. He rendered many services to the government in this capacity, in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Arabian. Sea. Thus we find him growing old at the head of his ships. He died exactly 400 years ago in 1554, as an old man of 84. Mortal though he himself was, he left behind him immortal works and unforgettable services to the world of civilization.

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