Mapping the Medieval World in Islamic Cartography

with Karen Pinto

hosted by Nir Shafir

In the latest addition to our series on history of science, Nir Shafir talks to Karen Pinto about her research on Islamic cartography and mapping.
This episode is part of an ongoing series entitled History of Science, Ottoman or Otherwise.
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Hundreds of cartographic images of the world and its regions exist scattered throughout collections of medieval and early modern Arabic, Persian, and Turkish manuscripts. The sheer number of these extant maps tells us that from the thirteenth century onward, when these map-manuscripts began to proliferate, visually depicting the world became a major preoccupation of medieval Muslim scholars. However, these cartographers did not strive for mimesis, that is, representation or imitation of the real world. These schematic, geometric, and often symmetrical images of the world are iconographic representations—‘carto-ideographs’—of how medieval Muslim cartographic artists and their patrons perceived their world and chose to represent and disseminate this perception. In this podcast, we sit down with Karen Pinto to discuss the maps found in the cartographically illustrated Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al-Mamālik (Book of Routes and Realms) tradition, which is the first known geographic atlas of maps, its influence on Ottoman cartography, and how basic versions of these carto-ideographs were transported back to villages and far-flung areas of the Islamic empire.


via Soundcloud


Karen Pinto is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Boise State University. She specializes in the history of Islamic cartography and its intersections between Ottoman, European, and other world cartographic traditions (see
Nir Shafir is a doctoral candidate at UCLA studying Ottoman intellectual history (see


Episode No. 220
Release Date: 12 January 2016
Recording Location: Brown University
Editing by Onur Engin (funded by a paid assistantship at Koç University under the supervision of Nina Ergin)
Music and sound samples: Bekir Sıdkı - Lerzan ediyor ruhumu cesmindeki efsunBBC Sound Effects Vol.46 - IstanbulSelma Sağbaş - Cok surmedi gecti tarab-i sevk-i baharim
Images courtesy of Leiden University Library

Classic Kitāb al-masālik wa-al-mamālik world map, ‘Ṣūrat al-Arḍ’ (Picture of the World) from an abbreviated copy of al-Iṣṭakhrī's Kitāb al-masālik wa-al-mamālik (Book of Routes and Realms). 589/1193. Mediterranean. Gouache and ink on paper. Diameter 37.5 cm. Courtesy: Leiden University Libraries. Cod. Or. 3101, ff. 4-5.

Map of Mediterranean from an abbreviated copy of al-Iṣṭakhrī's Kitāb al-masālik wa-al-mamālik (Book of Routes and Realms).Jabal al-Qilāl, a possible symbol for the mythical “Pillars of Hercules that guards the mouth of the Mediterranean in all KMMS maps. This version is decorated with dark red inverted crescents. 589/1193. Mediterranean. Gouache and ink on paper. 34 x 26 cm. Leiden: Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, MS. Or. 3101, f. 33a


Karen Pinto
Medieval Islamic Maps
University of Chicago Press, 2016
Medieval Islamic Maps: An Exploration (The University of Chicago Press, 2016)

“Passion and conflict: Medieval Islamic views of the West" in Mapping Medieval Geographies, ed. Keith Lilley, (Cambridge University Press, 2014), 201-224.

“Searchin’ his eyes, lookin’ for traces: Piri Reis’ World Map of 1513 & Its Islamic Iconographic Connections (A Reading Through Bağdat 334 and Proust),” Journal of Ottoman Studies, 39:1, 2012, 63-94.

"The Maps Are The Message: Mehmet II’s Patronage of an ‘Ottoman Cluster,’" Imago Mundi, 63:2, 2011, 155-179.


omar said…
Beautiful episode as usual and I particularly loved the opening music of that Jan 12, 2016 episode. Can you please tell me what that music was? Thank you so much in advance.
Chris Gratien said…
Thanks. The music at the beginning is from an album of makam music performance posted to You can find it all here:
Betul Basaran said…
How do we make sense of these two maps? Can any one provide commentary?
mapsgal said…
Betul: Please see my book Medieval Islamic Maps available through Amazon or the University of Chicago Press. See poster of book above. I also have articles on the subject on my academia page:

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