Tap to Read ➤

Interesting Facts About the Piri Reis Map

Neha Joshi Mar 19, 2020
The Piri Reis map is a map that was made in 1513 by an Ottoman General called Piri Reis. It is one of the oldest surviving maps today and tells us a lot about the area surrounding the Atlantic, including the Americas. Here are some of the most interesting facts about the Piri Reis map.

Did You Know?

The Piri Reis map has been depicted on the reverse of the Turkish banknote twice; the first time on the 10 million lira banknote of 1999 - 2005 and then again on the new 10 lira banknote of 2005 - 2009.
Our history is by and large still shrouded in mystery and intrigue. With every door that opens up promising possibilities of taking us back in time and offering glimpses of what really was, the entire world waits with bated breath for a tiny little piece to fall into place and make the picture a tad clearer.
So when the Piri Reis map was discovered in 1929 by theologian Gustav Adolf Deissmann, anticipation and excitement enveloped scholars and researchers who hoped to unearth at least one piece of this gargantuan puzzle with the aid of this document.
For the first time, the world saw a map that was drawn using one of Christopher Columbus' maps as a reference. Essentially, the Piri Reis map became the oldest surviving map showing the Americas. The word 'America' has been found in maps made before the said map.
But, in the Piri Reis map, we saw that both the Americas were shown together for the first time. Surprisingly, it was not even European in origin, but Turkish. The map stirred a lot of controversy and criticism, the reasons for which, along with a few interesting facts, we'll discuss here.

Intriguing Facts about the Piri Reis Map

The map is a portolan chart, which means that the directions are based on compass readings. The map was discovered exactly on 9th October 1929 in the Imperial Palace in Constantinople.
The map is dated back to the month of Muharram in the Islamic year 919 AH. In the Western calendar, this particular year corresponds to 1513.

It is signed by Hajji Ahmed Muhiddin Piri, Ahmed ibn-i el-Hac Mehmed El Karamani, also known as Piri Reis, an admiral with the Ottoman army, who was also a geographer and cartographer.
Though the language on the map may seem Arabic due to the script, it is actually Turkish. Back then, Turkish was written using Arabic letters.

The map is drawn on a parchment made from gazelle skin.
Today, the map is kept in the Library of the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. It is usually not on display for the public as it is sensitive to warmth, light, and damp. However, it put on display in January 2013 for only 20 days to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Piri Reis map that originally included all seven continents.
In his notes on the map, Piri Reis mentioned that he used other maps that had details of the entire world in order to make this particular one. The Piri Reis map that we see today is just half of what it originally was. The cartographer claims to have made the map using those drawn by Columbus.
All of Columbus' maps are now considered lost. Along with these, the cartographer also mentions that he used 10 Arabian maps and 4 Indian ones which were sourced from the Portuguese (all of them hailing from the time of Alexander the Great), to draw the Piri Reis map.
The map not only shows the coasts of South America but also the interiors of the continent in good detail. It shows a high mountain range with rivers flowing down towards the coast.

The Mystery of Antarctica

The southern portion of South America on the Piri Reis map is claimed by many to be the continent of Antarctica, which otherwise was not discovered till the late 1700s - early 1800s. On the map, the coastline bends sharply at what is today Rio de Janeiro. Many have tried to claim that this land is indeed the continent of Antarctica.
Arlington H. Mallery, an amateur archaeologist and a civil engineer by profession, identified the southern section of the map with Queen Maud Land. However, he wasn't the only one. Similar claims were made by Erich von Daniken in his book Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, where he claimed that the land was visited by extraterrestrials.
Similarly, Gavin Menzies in this book 1421: The Year China Discovered America claims the discovery of Antarctica to Chinese voyagers. All these claims have, however, been scrapped by scholars.
A believable approach was taken by historian of cartography, Gregory C. McIntosh. He thoroughly examined the map in his book titled The Piri Reis Map of 1513. After much study, he found sources in Columbus's writings. For three very practical reasons the coast cannot belong to the continent of Antarctica.
First, it is shown way up north when it actually, today, is hundreds of miles south. Second, the Drake Passage is entirely missing. Third, the notes state that this region had a warm climate.
Here is a translated version of the note found on the map:

This country is a waste. 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.
The Piri Reis map is still not completely decoded. It is still being studied. A lot of questions are still left unanswered. Only time will tell whether we will ever find those answers or not.