Map Making in Muslim Civilisation: The first map to show Europe, Asia, and North Africa

An artist’s rendering shows Al-Idrisi in the court of Roger II of Sicily, with his circular map that showed he knew that the world was spherical. (Source: 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, 3rd edition, page 236)

The first map to show Europe, Asia, and North Africa

A thousand years ago, accurate plans of countries, continents, and waterways were unknown. But as more people began to travel the world for trade, exploration, and religious reasons, the demand for good maps increased.

Al-Idrisi’s 12th century world map (Source) Al-Idrisi’s 12th-century map was the first to show most of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The Norman King Roger of Sicily commissioned it from Al-Idrisi. 
(Source: 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization, 3rd edition, page 239)

Some of the world’s most precious maps were drawn by great scholars of Muslim civilisation, who assembled all the geographical knowledge available to them. They also drew on eyewitness accounts of the medieval world, which often came from geographers and travelers of the time who kept detailed diaries as they journeyed.

The Tabula Rogeriana, by Al-Idrisi in 1154, is one of the most detailed maps of the ancient world. This map has been rotated to show its similarity with modern maps (Source)

In the 12th century, scholar Al-Idrisi produced a map showing most of Europe, Asia, and North Africa for the first time. Al-Idrisi ranged widely, drawing on older knowledge and interviewing thousands of travelers to make his map the most accurate of its day.

The part of al-Idrisi’s world map showing Alexandria and its lighthouse, which still stood in 1154. South is “up”. (Source)

The Arabic text shows that Al-Idrisi drew the map with the south to the top and north to the bottom, as was customary then.

Al-Idrisi’s world map turned upside-down for Westernized minds. Mecca is in the middle, Europe upper-left. (Source)

The map was commissioned by Roger II of Sicily, the Norman king who had recently overthrown the Muslim rulers. Nonetheless, he invited Al-Idrisi, who was at that time living in Spain, to make the map for him—a task that would take 15 years. Twelfth-century Sicily was a global crossroads for culture and ideas, which helped in the task.

Al-Idrisi drew India, Arabia, Asia, the Mediterranean, Europe, and northern Africa on a circular map, and made a large, silver planisphere. Al-Idrisi calculated that the Earth’s circumference was 22,900 miles at the Equator, about 10 percent adrift from the modern figure. He also wrote about the hemispheres of the Earth, its climatic zones, the seas, and gulfs.

Get the full story from 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization Reference (4th  Edition) Annotated. 

From 1001 Inventions Exhibition (Source)